HIV is widely regarded as a disease of poverty and ignorance. However, within sub-Saharan Africa, more developed countries and sub-populations appear to have higher levels of HIV prevalence. This paper considers the evidence and possible reasons for this, by focusing on the relationships between education and the spread of HIV at the macro and micro levels. It is concluded that more educated populations are initially particularly vulnerable to HIV but are also better equipped to mount effective responses. Expanding provision of and access to secondary education could facilitate HIV control but is severely hampered by the morbidity and mortality effects of HIV epidemics. Efforts to sustain and increase education levels and to reduce HIV infections should therefore be mutually re-enforcing but will require extensive resources. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.