A study published in Africa stated more than two million new HIV infections could be prevented over the next 10 years if African men were all circumcised. The report, in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal, is built on data released last year that estimated male circumcision reduces HIV transmission from women to men by 65 per cent.
“We looked at what happened to the number of infections and the number of deaths assuming we achieved full coverage [every male was circumcised],” said Catherine Hankins, chief scientific adviser for the UN Program on HIV/AIDS, and co-author of the study. “We found there is a definite reduction in the number of infections and the number of deaths, in the range of 1.6- to 5.8-million people.”
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/Aids, which was involved in the study, is currently gathering information on the rate of circumcision and its social acceptability, to help countries decide whether they want to pursue a more active circumcision policy, said Ms. Hankins.
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Somalia and Côte d''Ivoire already have very high rates of circumcision and low rates of infection, whereas others, such as South Africa, could significantly reduce their HIV infection rates if more men were circumcised, she said.
The UN is waiting on the results of two studies in Uganda and Kenya both due out next year before it decides whether to actively promote circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy.
“If the second trial comes in with the similar data as last summer''s trial, then we will recommend that countries move forward on this,” Ms. Hankins said.
Researchers believe circumcision helps to cut infection risk because the foreskin is covered in cells that the virus seems able to easily infect. The virus may also survive better in the warm, wet environment provided by the foreskin.
“It''s a very sensitive issue, and not just biologically,” said Ms. Hankins. “There are circumcising cultures, such as Jewish and Muslim cultures, and non-circumcising cultures, such as East and Southern Africa. There are cultural meanings to circumcision, and there needs to be acceptability studies to find out whether this is a procedure that countries would be willing to embrace