Pinning hopes on the cut

MAPUTO - The statistics are grim for Africa on World Aids Day - almost 25 million Africans are infected with HIV and last year there were 2,8million infections and 2,1 million deaths attributable to the HI virus.

MAPUTO - The statistics are grim for Africa on World Aids Day - almost 25 million Africans are infected with HIV and last year there were 2,8million infections and 2,1 million deaths attributable to the HI virus.

But health experts are hoping that male circumcision will prove to be a simple method of fighting Aids. The rising interest in circumcision as a weapon against the epidemic is based primarily on a study at Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, which found that circumcised men were about 60 percent less likely to contract HIV.

Doctors say the most likely explanation is that cells on the inside of the foreskin, the part of the penis removed in circumcision, are particularly susceptible to HIV infection.

The Orange Farm study was so conclusive that it was halted early and the participants were offered circumcision.

Two more studies are under way, in Kenya and Uganda. Officials say they might stop the study this month if early results are as persuasive as those from Orange Farm.

UNAids said it must wait for the results of the two studies before launching a circumcision campaign.

But UN officials are laying the groundwork by quizzing doctors and government officials on exactly what would be needed to roll out a major drive across Africa to encourage circumcision.

Circumcision would appear to be an almost tailormade defence: a cheap, simple one-off procedure.

A World Health Organisation study said circumcision could prevent nearly 6 million HIV infections and save 3 million lives in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 20 years - making it one of the most promising interventions against a disease for which there is no cure.

The Treatment Action Campaign said: "Being circumcised does not mean men are wholly protected. Sex with many partners without using a condom is still likely to lead to HIV infection." - Reuters

X