It Was Not the Perfect Storm: The Social History of the HIV-2 Virus in Guinea-Bissau

Jorge Varanda, José Maurício Santos

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The perfect storm model that was elaborated for the HIV-1M pandemic has also been used to explain the emergence of HIV-2, a second human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV-AIDS) that became an epidemic in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. The use of this model creates epidemiological generalizations, ecological oversimplifications and historical misunderstandings as its assumptions—an urban center with explosive population growth, a high level of commercial sex and a surge in STDs, a network of mechanical transport and country-wide, en masse mobile campaigns—are absent from the historical record. This model fails to explain how the HIV-2 epidemic actually came about. This is the first study to conduct an exhaustive examination of sociohistorical contextual developments and align them with environmental, virological and epidemiological data. The interdisciplinary dialogue indicates that the emergence of the HIV-2 epidemic piggybacked on local sociopolitical transformations. The war’s indirect effects on ecological relations, mobility and sociability were acute in rural areas and are a key to the HIV-2 epidemic. This setting had the natural host of the virus, the population numbers, the mobility trends and the use of technology on a scale needed to foster viral adaptation and amplification. The present analysis suggests new reflections on the processes of zoonotic spillovers and disease emergence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number261
Number of pages14
JournalTropical Medicine and Infectious Disease
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • biomedical technology
  • disease emergence
  • historical epidemiology
  • HIV-2
  • West Africa
  • zoonosis


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