Repeated Use of Unsterilized Blades in Ritual Circumcision Might Contribute to HIV Spread in S. Africa, Doctors Say
Doctors are concerned that ritual circumcision practices performed on adolescent boys as a rite of passage in South Africa might be spreading HIV through the repeated use of unsterilized blades, the Baltimore Sun reports. The practice, which is performed by a traditional surgeon without anesthesia, is meant to reinforce the belief that "real men can endure pain," but hundreds of boys have died or been maimed by the procedure, leading provincial health officials to criticize the tradition, the Sun reports. "We can imagine in some communities about 20% of boys going off to the bush [for circumcision] will be HIV-positive," Graeme Meintjes, an AIDS specialist in Cape Town, South Africa, who has written a book on ritual circumcision, said, adding, "It's an extremely high risk" (Calvert, Baltimore Sun, 7/6).
Possible Prevention Method?
However, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that French and South African researchers have found that circumcision, when performed correctly, might reduce by 70% a man's risk of contracting HIV through sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive woman. Researchers hope circumcision can be an effective tool to slow the spread of HIV in Africa, where 70% of males are circumcised at birth or during rite-of-passage ceremonies in adolescence, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6). "If male circumcision can reduce the rate of HIV transmission, it gives us the potential for a very important intervention in a lot of African cultures where circumcision is not traditionally practiced," Ronald Gray, an AIDS researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said. Thabo Rangaka, the South African Medical Association's spokesperson on circumcision, is pushing to have all boys undergo circumcision at a clinic or hospital before going to rural areas to complete the rest of their ceremonial transition to manhood (Baltimore Sun, 7/6). Gray is conducting a controlled clinical trial of male circumcision in Uganda, which is scheduled to be completed in 2007. A similar trial in Kenya also is set to finish in 2007, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is sponsoring the trial (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6).