Plan to fight pandemic with a knife

SOUTH Africa has moved swiftly to develop a male circumcision plan that would have buy-in from all stakeholders and will go beyond being a purely medical intervention, ideally also engaging men on, among others, HIV prevention, gender issues and alcohol abuse.

SOUTH Africa has moved swiftly to develop a male circumcision plan that would have buy-in from all stakeholders and will go beyond being a purely medical intervention, ideally also engaging men on, among others, HIV prevention, gender issues and alcohol abuse.

By the late 1980s, researchers noticed that HIV infection rates were lower in groups where men were circumcised. But it was not clear whether it was circumcision itself or some other difference in behaviour .

Researchers in Orange Farm, Johannesburg, wanted to find out whether circumcising men could reduce their chance of becoming infected with HIV. They offered young, sexually active, heterosexual, uncircumcised men the chance to have the operation. They explained that half of those who came forward would be circumcised right away (the "treatment group") and the other half would be circumcised 21 months later (the "control group").

Some 3000 men joined the study. However, after 14 months, the number of new infections in the control group (49) was so much greater than the number in the treatment group (20).

The men in the control group were told they could be circumcised without any further delay.

Infections were 60percent fewer in the treatment group.

South African stakeholders have been pushing since 2005 to have the government engage the issue of male circumcision. However, the former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was outspoken in her opposition to medical male circumcision and believed that it was best left to traditional leaders.

President of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, Dr Francois Venter, said he would like to see one country in Africa spreading the male circumcision across the region and he believes South Africa can lead the way.

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