Thursday, August 30, 2007

US Aids fund targets circumcised males



THOUSANDS of Ugandan men could benefit from circumcision as a means to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids, thanks to a US fund to fight the pandemic in Africa.
President George Bush set up the fund a few years ago.

The Washington Post, a US daily reported last week that the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) - a $15 billion anti-Aids effort - would begin investing significantly in making circumcision available to African men seeking to protect themselves from HIV infection.

The paper quoted a delegation of US officials, led by the Health and Human Services Secretary, Mr Mike Leavitt, telling reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa that recent research showing that circumcision dramatically cuts the rate of HIV infection is 'highly convincing.'

Countries taking part in the Pepfar have been invited to seek money to expand access to the procedure, the paper said, adding that circumcision would become "an important part" of the programme in the coming months and years.

Uganda is one of the 15 countries that are beneficiaries of the programme. The country received $170 million (Shs290 billion) in 2006 alone, mainly for the provision of ARV treatment, prevention, care and support to infected individuals and orphans.
The Pepfar Emergency Plan Coordinator at the US Embassy in Kampala, Ms Premila Bartlett, declined to comment on how the programme would be implemented.

She referred Daily Monitor to the Public Affairs Officer, Ms Lisa Heilbron, who could not be reached by press time yesterday. Recent studies in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa indicate that the cells in the foreskin of a penis are especially vulnerable to HIV, and removing the foreskin makes a man about 60 per cent less likely to contract the virus.

Other studies have also shown that uncircumcised men are more likely to have genital ulcers, and the presence of ulcers can facilitate the transmission of HIV.
The Washington Post report said Kenya is among the nations preparing to expand circumcision services.

The US government had been reluctant to support circumcision until there was broad international consensus on the issue, but recent studies have said circumcision would be one of the major interventions in the 'international arsenal' against the disease.
However, some disagreements remain over how to introduce circumcision as a prevention activity, and its likely impact.

For example, a new study has shown that male circumcision does not reduce a woman's risk of catching HIV if her partner already has the virus.
The study published in the August 20th edition of the journal Aids, was conducted in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

However, it did show that women with high levels of sexual risk were slightly less likely to contract HIV if their partners were circumcised, and the investigators suggest that this finding should be explored in further studies.