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NGO Says Male Circumcision Efforts Lagging in Africa, Despite Evidence it Reduces HIV Infection Risk


At the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, new findings show that male circumcision efforts are lacking in Africa, despite evidence the procedure helps reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Population Services International says years of research show that male circumcision can cut the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by up to 70 percent. It says making the procedure more widely available in sub-Saharan Africa could prevent about two million infections over the next ten years. What's more, it says, it could save as many as four million lives over the next 20 years. Male circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin of the penis.

Dvora Joseph is the acting director of the HIV department at Population Services International, or PSI.

"PSI, the organization that I work for, has a few projects now in South Africa, Zambia and Swaziland. And we see that there's a lot of demand for services. There's not enough supply. We're calling on the international community and donors and stakeholders to scale up access to male circumcision," she says.

Joseph explains why male circumcision reduces the risk of infection.

"There are cells underneath the foreskin, Langerhans cells, that are susceptible to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well. And that's what creates the increased susceptibility for men who are not circumcised," she says.

She says while it's best to do male circumcision shortly after birth, the PSI projects target certain age groups.

"Our target groups right now are 13 to 29. And that's what we found according to the mathematical modeling will have the greatest impact on the epidemic. Really we're seeing probably a little bit older, 16 to 30. It's easier, obviously, to circumcise men before they become sexually active. So, we're really trying to target adolescent men before they become sexually active," she says.

Before the procedure is done, men are given counseling about circumcision and safe sex, followed by a physical exam and HIV testing. The procedure is done under local anesthetic and takes less than 30 minutes. Recovery time takes several days.

PSI says there's enough information available now about male circumcision to dispel fears about safety, increasing risky behavior and cultural and religious sensitivities.

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