Botswana is among southern African countries that have resolved to encourage men to go for circumcision following a study that has shown that the ritual dramatically reduces the risk of infection.
Botswana, Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia are in talks with the UN Aids agency on making circumcision more accessible to men as part of their HIV prevention efforts, said UNAIDS adviser Tomas Lundstrom.
A media release from International Labour Organization (ILO) said the new strategy followed the results of a three-year study in a South African township that showed that circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 60 per cent.
It mentioned the study involved some 3,274 men, aged from 18 to 24.
”What we showed was a dramatic effect.
Those who were circumcised were protected against acquiring HIV,” said Adrian Purven, the deputy director of South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases and the principal investigator in the study.
He added: ”By removing almost completely the foreskin, you are removing areas where the HIV virus could hide or gain access to the main circulation.”
The deputy director said so conclusive were the results that South African and French researchers conducting the study at Orange Farm Township halted it in July for ethical reasons and offered circumcision to all the men taking part.
He said UNAIDS officials have now launched two similar studies in Uganda and Kenya involving nearly 8,000 men.
Interim results are expected later this month which could establish the use of male circumcision in fighting against Aids.
”This could be revolutionary for prevention but it is important to say this is not the silver bullet,” Lundstrom said stressing that condoms still offer the best protection against HIV.
He continued: ”Where circumcision is a practice, we would want to make it safe for young boys, affordable and accessible.
He said talks with the five countries on making circumcision a more widespread practice are proceeding with caution, given the cultural sensitivities.
According to him, less than 20 percent of men are said to be circumcised in southern Africa where HIV prevalence is the highest.
Estimates show that 3.7 million infections and 2.7 million deaths could be averted over the next 20 years by resorting to male circumcision as a means of prevention.
The latest UNAIDS report on the global epidemic showed that HIV remains high in southern Africa, contrary to the rest of the world where the incidence of new infections appears to have stabilised for the first time in the 25-year history of Aids.