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13 July 2006
Mass Circumcisions In Africa “Could Prevent Millions Of AIDS Deaths”
by George Atkinson

A provocative new study in the journal PLoS Medicine claims that millions of lives could be saved if mass circumcisions were carried out in Africa. The study suggests that if all African men were circumcised over the next 10 years, some 2 million new HIV infections and around 300,000 deaths could be avoided. Extrapolating their estimates, the researchers say that somewhere between 2 million to 6 million lives could be saved over 30 years.

Currently, circumcision rates in sub-Saharan Africa vary greatly between countries. "West and central Africa have high circumcision rates and lower HIV rates. Southern and eastern Africa have lower circumcision rates and higher HIV rates," explained Catherine Hankins, chief adviser on HIV/AIDS for the UN.

The new research builds on the results of a previous study in Africa that found that circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection by around 60 percent. Extrapolating on this earlier study using mathematical modeling, the researchers estimated the effects that circumcision could have in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 10 years; finding that 2 million new infections could be prevented.

The researchers say that while circumcision's protective benefit to HIV-negative men would be immediate, the full impact of circumcision on HIV-related illness and death would only become apparent further into the future. "The message from [the study] is that there is tremendous potential for male circumcision to have an effect on the HIV epidemic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa," said Hankins, adding that more work was being undertaken to further understand the characteristics of male to female transmission, and to further refine policy directions about whether (and how) to promote male circumcision for HIV prevention in Africa.

Based on material from PLoS Medicine




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