Saturday, November 10, 2007

Male circumcision the key to controlling the spread of AIDS in Africa

In what is being coined as a ‘landmark’ trial, researchers have found evidence that male circumcision (MC) could reduce the chance of becoming infected with HIV.

World Health Organization researchers have estimated that being circumcised reduces the chance of men becoming infected with HIV infection by as much as 60%.

The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, which causes AIDS, now infects close to 40 million people and has killed another 25 million.

It is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and the main method of transmission is sex between a man and a woman.

Dr. Bertran Auvert of the French National Research Agency INSERM and colleagues analyzed data from trials that showed men who had been circumcised had a significantly lower risk of infection with the AIDS virus.

MC has been practised by many of Africa’s ethnic groups for many centuries and it commonly takes place in late childhood or early adolescence.

Circumcision is believed to help reduce the risk of infection because the foreskin is covered in cells which the virus is able to easily infect.

The virus may also survive better in a warm, wet environment like that found beneath a foreskin.

In West Africa, male circumcision is common and the prevalence of HIV is low, while in southern Africa the situation is the opposite.

If men were circumcised, fewer would become infected and therefore could not infect their female partners.

When the researchers took into account information on HIV infection rates and the prevalence of male circumcision across Africa, they worked out that if all men were circumcised over the next 10 years, some two million new infections and around 300,000 deaths could be avoided.

They say when a variety of possible outcomes that might arise if MC is widely promoted and making calculations for 10, 20 and 30 years time, the number of lives saved would be somewhere in the range 1.6 - 5.8 million.

They project that universal male circumcision would reduce the rate of infections by about 37 percent.

The research is published in the journal the Public Library of Science Medicine.