Male Circumcision and HIV Prevention

Swaziland, an African country that has one of the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the world, is heightening its drive of having their men circumcised to help combat the spread of the virus. Forty-two percent of young adults in this country are infected with HIV.

The government plans to offer the procedure to an estimated 200,000 sexually active men over the next five years. The problem, however, is lack of doctors. There are less than 100 physicians available for over one million people. However, circumcision has become a booming business among clinics, wherein crowds line-up to have their foreskin removed.

The reason for the sudden enthusiasm for circumcision is simple: It has reached into public consciousness among countries worst-hit by AIDS that circumcision helps protect men from contracting HIV from infected female sexual partners.

Research has shown that circumcised men is 65% less likely to contract HIV from a woman who has the virus than a man whose penis still has a foreskin. Clinics offer the operation for as little as $82 a snip, although the U.S. AIDS program is helping the Swazi government to offer circumcision for free.

It appears that circumcision offers protection from heterosexual transmission of HIV in a number of different ways. For one, the fragile inside of the foreskin is full of Langerhans cell (a kind of white blood cell) that are said to be favorite targets of HIV as it hooks itself on to them to gain entry to a new body.

A circumcised penis also develops a toughened layer of skin that is much harder for the virus to penetrate. And, circumcised men are less likely to contract various forms of sexually-transmitted diseases such as herpes, syphilis, and genital ulcers.

However, research has not shown if a woman having sex with an HIV-infected circumcised male would be less likely to get the virus compared to doing it with an uncircumcised HIV-infected partner.

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