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Surprising Science

Can Circumcision Stem the AIDS Crisis?

Some studies are finding that male circumcision decreases the odds that a heterosexual man will contract HIV by 57 percent or more. The operation is being performed more frequently.

What’s the Latest Development?

The initial results of a 13 year program in southern and eastern Africa to halve HIV infection rates through male circumcision are promising. The goal of the program is to circumcise 80 percent of men by 2015 with a goal of halving infection rates from 2011 levels. The procedure is winning support for its cost effectiveness since preventing the disease through a simple surgical procedure is cheaper than a lifetime of antiretroviral drugs. The 20.3 million expected circumcisions “could prevent some 3.4 million new HIV infections in both men and women.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Circumcision, to be sure, is an imperfect protector. And some fear that once men are circumcised, they will feel more free to have unprotected sex or sleep with multiple partners. “But with adult and adolescent males coming in for circumcision, doctors and nurses have the opportunity to give them information about condoms and other ways to reduce their risk of HIV, as well as to identify men who already have the retrovirus and get them started on treatment earlier in their illness.”

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