A new report published in the USA adds to growing research to suggest that male circumcision can help prevent the transmission of the HI Virus in Africa. The article, titled The Potential Impact of Male Circumcision on HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, was published in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine this week.

“This analysis shows that male circumcision could avert nearly six million new infections and save three million lives in sub-Saharan Africa over the next twenty years,” the authors say.

According to the report, it was noticed some years ago that those African groups in which circumcision is routinely done on all boys have fewer cases of HIV/AIDS than are found in groups where circumcision is not a tradition.

The study based its findings on existing data which was collected in 2005 in a trial in Orange Farm, South Africa, in which uncircumcised men were offered the chance to be circumcised. During the next 18 months, the number of new cases of HIV infection was much higher amongst the men who had not been circumcised.

The new report’s author’s used the data from this trial to statistically estimate just how many new cases could be prevented and how many lives would be saved by the promotion of male circumcision.

Their results suggest that circumcision could have a dramatic impact on the pandemic if the practice is actively promoted over the next decade: They estimate that within this period, two million cases and 300 000 deaths could be avoided, while over the following ten years, a further 3.7 million cases and 2.7 million deaths would be prevented.

Most of the initial impact would be in men, but the reduction in the number of HIV-positive men would in time also lower the risk of women becoming infected. Overall, on the basis of their calculations, male circumcision would reduce the rate of infections by about 37%.

The authors caution that, “Male circumcision alone cannot bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa under control and that circumcised men can become infected, though their risk of doing so is much lower”. However, the researchers have called for the promotion of male circumcision to become a major part of AIDS control programmes in Africa.

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