Male circumcision could save millions from HIV/AIDS

Egyptian bas-relief from 2400 BC: circumcision is an ancient practice in many parts of Africa Copyright: Wellcome Institute Library

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[LUSAKA] Expanding the practice of male circumcision in Africa over the next 20 years could prevent three million deaths and nearly six million HIV infections say researchers.

In a study published yesterday (10 July) in PLoS Medicine, the researchers combined results from a trial in South Africa last year — showing that male circumcision reduces the chance of men becoming infected with HIV by 60 per cent — with data on HIV and circumcision rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

They say that if circumcision were increased to include all men in Africa in ten years’ time some two million new infections and 300,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS could be avoided, with the full impact becoming more apparent further into the future.

After 20 years, the researchers say the number of deaths prevented would be between 1.6 million and 5.8 million.

For centuries, many of Africa’s ethnic groups have practised male circumcision, which usually take place in late childhood or early adolescence.

The researchers, led by Brian Williams of the World Health Organization, say that although male circumcision alone cannot bring HIV/AIDS in Africa under control, it should become a major part of programmes to control the epidemic.

Kasonde Bowa, a consultant urologist at Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital told SciDev.Net that since the hospital started male circumcision five years ago the number of people requesting it has increased drastically, making it difficult to meet the demand.

Link to full article/paper in PLoS Medicine

Reference: PLoS Medicine 7, e262 (2006)

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030262