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Mapping the Spread of HIV/AIDS

Mapping the Spread of HIV/AIDS

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  • Grades:
  • Length: Variable


Students read an essay about how scientists first tracked HIV/AIDS, then play the role of epidemiologist as they use actual data to map the spread of the disease worldwide.

The essay portion of the activity contains stark facts that may be difficult to absorb. Depending upon students’ grade and maturity levels, the essay may be used as teacher background information instead of student reading material. The activity is most appropriate for use with students in grades 6-12.

This activity is from The Science of HIV/AIDS Teacher's Guide. The guide also is available in print format.

This work was developed in partnership with the Baylor-UT Houston Center for AIDS Research, an NIH-funded program.

Teacher Background

Diseases have haunted the human race throughout history. With the continued expansion of the world’s population, international travel and global trade, diseases are able to spread more rapidly now than ever before. Since its origination in the 1930s, HIV has reached every country in the world and killed 30 million people. It is estimated that another 34 million people currently are living and struggling with HIV/AIDS.

This certainly is not the first disease calamity to strike humans. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–19 resulted in the death of an estimated 50 million people, either directly from the disease or from its complications. Before that, yellow fever, small pox and the black plague ravaged populations around the world. Another old killer, malaria, still plays a deadly role in many nations.

Disease detectives, called epidemiologists, help us to understand and defeat these awful illnesses. Epidemiologists study factors that affect the health of populations. Their work is a colossal investigation being conducted in remote natural settings and high-tech laboratories around the world. Epidemiologists collect data to identify outbreaks of old and new diseases, analyze samples, make computer projections, and evaluate possible cures and strategies. Their goal is to identify the cause of disease and determine what to do about it.

The following classroom activity places students in the role of disease detectives, as they investigate trends in HIV infection worldwide. Students will discover that many countries with high HIV infection rates have low levels of per capita income and education, two characteristics often linked with disease. For example, malnutrition and insufficient protection against parasites, often found in economically deprived nations and communities, can limit the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Under these circumstances, individuals are more susceptible to infection by HIV and other pathogens (disease causing organisms). HIV/AIDS treatments are expensive, and are less available in economically disadvantaged countries. Poor children have an increased likelihood of contracting HIV/AIDS from an infected mother during pregnancy or while nursing, because HIV treatments to reduce the chances of HIV transmission are expensive and may not be an option, or even available.

HIV/AIDS also depletes household resources and income. Medical care is expensive and family members who care for the sick may not be able to work. Children may be left to fend for themselves or even become orphaned. And poverty sometimes leads people to participate in risky activities that increase their chances of being exposed to disease. Sustainable economic development, improved standards of living, and better education are essential to combating the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Content Advisory 

See the following resources for additional information about HIV/AIDS and advice for discussing HIV/AIDS with students.

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIH), offers resources on understanding HIV/AIDS: and

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, offers facts about drug abuse and the link between it and HIV/AIDS:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS prevention:

Objectives and Standards

Life Science

  • Disease is a breakdown in structures or functions of an organism. Some diseases are the result of damage by infection by other organisms.

  • A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time.

  • Human beings live within the world’s ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology and consumption.

Science and Technology

  • Many different people in different cultures have made and continue to make contributions to science and technology.

  • Scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Societal challenges often inspire questions for scientific research.

History and Nature of Science

  • Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models.
  • Individuals and teams have contributed and will continue to contribute to the scientific enterprise. Doing science can be as simple as an individual conducting field studies or as complex as hundreds of people working on a major scientific questions or technological problem.

Materials and Setup

Materials per Class (see Setup)

  • Set of Adult HIV/AIDS Prevalence Rate, by Country Tables sheets One set will accommodate 10 groups of students.

  • Large political world map mounted in a central location or find and download a world map from the Internet using the search terms, “world,” “map,” and “countries.” Enlarge the map to poster-size so that smaller countries, especially in Europe, can be identified.

Materials per Student Team

  • Internet access to geography websites, or a current world atlas

  • Map pins or push pins (or small, colored stick-on dots) in six colors

  • One (or more) prepared "Team Cards" (see Setup below, and Lesson pdf)

  • Copy of “Where in the World?” and enlarged copy of the blank world map (see Lesson pdf)

Materials per Student

  • Copy of essay (if age appropriate; see Lesson pdf)


  1. Pins of different colors will be used to identify HIV/AIDS rates in different countries. If using stick-on dots, it ?may be difficult to find six different colors. Dots in four colors are easy to obtain. Additional colors can be ?created by gently running colored markers over some of the yellow, green or white dots.

  2. Mount the paper world map on a bulletin board. You and/or groups of students will create a map legend to match the colored pins or dots (see step 4 in Procedure).

  3. Copy the "Team Cards" sheets onto cardstock and cut out the cards. (The number of cards per team of students will depend on the total number of student teams.) Make copies of the student sheet.

  4. Divide your students into cooperative learning groups of 2 to 4. Place the mapping pins or colored dots in a central location.

  5. Depending on the amount of time and resources available, you may want to conduct this activity as a student group project, with each group receiving its own map and plotting an entire set of dots.

Procedure and Extensions

Time: Two 60-minute class periods

  1. Depending upon students' grade and maturity levels, have students read the essay, "Trailing the Pandemic." Then ask students, Does anyone know what “CSI” stands for? [crime scene investigation] Have any of you watched one of the different CSI programs on television? How do the investigators on these programs gather information? Mention that students will apply problem-solving strategies and scientific techniques like those used on CSI to collect clues and explain a mystery. Discuss the topic of mapping a crime scene and help students understand how the mapping process informs investigators. Ask, What does a crime scene map tell the investigators? [It helps them determine the sequence of events.]

  2. Divide the class into 10 HIV/AIDS mapping teams. Provide each team with one of the ten "Adult HIV/AIDS Prevalence Rate, by Country" tables. If you have fewer than 10 teams, give some groups two tables or divide the remaining countries among all teams.

  3. Explain that each table lists 16 or 17 different countries for which HIV/AIDS data are available (data are not available for all countries). The number to the right of each country name is the percentage of the adult population in that country living with HIV/AIDS. (For this activity, an “adult” is defined as a person aged 15 to 49.) The data were collected from The World Factbook produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. They are from the year 2009. The percentage of infected adults in each country was calculated by dividing the total adult population by the number of adults living with HIV/AIDS, whether or not they exhibited AIDS symptoms.

  4. Create a color legend for the map, or assign one or more students to create the legend. The table below provides suggested percentage ranges to be represented by each color of map pin or adhesive dot. However, you may adjust the legend on your class map to match the colors available.

    Suggested Legend

    Purple:  *< 0.1%

    Blue:  0.1% – < 0.5%

    Green:  0.5% – < 1%

    Yellow:  1% – < 5%

    Orange:  5% – < 15%

    Red:  15% – < 26%

    *< = less than

  5. Have each student team locate its assigned countries on the world map. Then, have students place an appropriately-colored pin or dot in the center of each country to represent the percentage of adults in that country who are living with HIV/AIDS. Some countries may be difficult to locate. A world atlas or access to geography websites will be helpful.

  6. When all teams have plotted their countries, have them use the questions on the student page to analyze the total map display.

  7. Lead a class discussion of the results. Ask, Do you see any trends? Where is HIV/AIDS most prevalent? [central and southern Africa.] Which country has the highest percentage of adults living with HIV/AIDS? [Swaziland: 26.1%.] What are the numbers worldwide? [34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.]


Have each student "adopt" one country from his/er table and research that country's resources, people, politics, and other conditions that may contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and/or other health problems.

Related Content


    HIV/AIDS Teacher Guide

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Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Grant Number: 5R25RR018605