Stray things tend rather to preoccupy a hapless reporter's mind when reading abstracts, such as "oh, there's a Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group at Emory University in Atlanta in the USA and Lusaka, Zambia - I didn't know that. Should I have known that?" Followed by "Hmmmm. Why Rwanda and Zambia? Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills, but none of the hills touch borders with Zambia. And one country is French-speaking; the other English. Meetings must be difficult. And why isn't there an office in Kigali mentioned? Are the researchers doing this because there's a particular sub-type of HIV that they want to focus on? why does it look like all the volunteers are from Zambia - maybe there's separate research being done in Rwanda?"
It is quite possible to get utterly sidetracked before realising that according to the abstract, the researchers are tracking volunteer "discordant couples," which sounds to non-scientists like the couples are incompatible and need marriage counselling. All "discordant couples" really means is that one partner has the virus; the other hasn't. As (and if) one partner infects the other (don't get self-righteous now - there's clearly lots of counselling and advice on risk reduction but behavioural change is not something that comes easily to humans, is it, or the diet industry would collapse tomorrow) the infection is tracked in order to gain valuable insight into how the virus levels explode in the bloodstream.
This process of Know Thy Enemy can appear a bit grisly: researchers tried to do the first test on 68 sero-converters as soon as possible after infection, with follow up blood tests at 6 months, 9 months and 12 months later (if the researchers could find the volunteers, of course - the numbers drop, suggesting it was a mission). You know how cautious scientists can be (even when they're not being compared to journalists). So when they say they've documented "a dramatic evolution of plasma viral loads," little alarm bells go off. Three newly-infected partners were on Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) within the year.
And by then, Hapless Reporter has wandered off the conference website and Googled the research group's very interesting website. They're tracking the world's biggest group of discordant couples, in Rwanda. Biggest in many senses: longest-standing (began in 1986, with a break induced by the 1994 genocide) and largest in terms of couple numbers. Thousands and thousands of heterosexual couples.
And the world's second-largest study? Same research group. Zambia. So there is a link between Rwanda and Zambia. Last word goes to the Rwanda-Zambia HIV Research Group, which suggests that single status is a healthy option: "While couples represent the largest risk group in Africa (60% of new HIV infections are acquired from a spouse), less than one percent of cohabiting couples have been tested together."
And all of this has very, very little to do with the picture, which is of Hedimo Santana, of the New South Wales state version of the non-governmental organisation People Living with HIV/AIDS. The organisation sent three riveting speakers, including two longterm survivors of HIV/AIDS, to address the National Press Foundation's Journalist to Journalist training week, ahead of the International Aids Conference in Sydney, Australia.