Washington Post Examines South Africa’s Response to Findings That Male Circumcision Could Prevent HIV Transmission
The Washington Post on Sunday examined South Africa's response to recent findings indicating that male circumcision might significantly reduce HIV transmission (Timberg, Washington Post, 7/16). According to a report published in the November 2005 issue of PLoS Medicine, male circumcision might reduce by about 60% the risk of men contracting HIV through sexual intercourse with women. The randomized, controlled clinical trial enrolled more than 3,000 HIV-negative, uncircumcised men ages 18 to 24 living in a South African township. Half of the men were randomly assigned to be circumcised and the other half served as a control group, remaining uncircumcised. For every 10 uncircumcised men who contracted HIV, about three circumcised men contracted the virus. Researchers believed the findings were so significant they deemed it was unethical to proceed without offering the option to all males in the study. Two similar studies examining the effect of male circumcision on HIV transmission currently are underway in Kenya and Uganda (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/12). Since the report was published, Swaziland and Zambia have launched pilot programs offering male circumcision at a discounted cost, and Botswana, Uganda, Lesotho and Tanzania are considering similar programs. But in South Africa, the study's findings "have rarely been reported, much less publicly discussed," according to the Post. President Thabo Mbeki signed a law last month that prohibits the procedure on boys under age 16, and some HIV/AIDS advocates say the number of circumcisions might decrease in South Africa. The law, which has not yet taken effect, was designed to prevent circumcisions performed as tribal rituals, which cause dozens of deaths and injuries annually. The law allows the practice for religious reasons, as well as for undefined medical reasons. South African officials have vowed to stay updated on the circumcision studies and alter the law if there is "compelling" evidence on the effect of the procedure on HIV transmission, the Post reports (Washington Post, 7/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.