A circumcision campaign in a South African township cut new HIV infections among the treated men by 76%, researchers reported Wednesday. The simple operation provides a way to make major inroads in the HIV transmission rate in countries where the infection rate is very high, researchers said, and provides a cost-effective way to slow the pandemic.
Clinical trials have shown that circumcision can reduce HIV infection, but the new results presented at a Rome conference of the International AIDS Society show the benefits in actual practice.
Using funds provided by international donors, physicians offered free circumcisions to all men over the age of 15 in the South African township of Orange Farm, which has a population of about 110,000. About 20,000 men participated in the program between 2007 and 2010, increasing the proportion of circumcised males in the township from 16% to 50%. Among men 15 to 24, the proportion circumcised reached 59%.
Dr. Bertran Auvert, a professor of public health at the University of Versailles in France, and his colleagues studied about 1,200 men in the township in 2007 and a similar number in 2010. They found an average of 2.86 HIV infections per 100 uncircumcised men, compared with 0.42 per 100 in men who had undergone the procedure. After statistical adjustment, that worked out to a 76% reduction in infections. There is no evidence that the circumcised men were more likely to use condoms or otherwise change their behavior.