Sexual Health Monday April 4, 2011

Can circumcision offer protection from STIs?

Around 25% of the population of Swaziland are HIV positive. According to the Atlantic, the epidemic in this African country is fuelled by poverty, a lack of medical resources and a promiscuous culture.

Half of all women aged between 25 and 29 and men aged 35 to 39 are infected with HIV. The 1.2 million people living with HIV have a life expectancy of just 47, which has recently dropped from the earlier figure of 61. The epidemic is so pronounced that 32 people are infected with HIV every single day, and 36 will die from the disease.

"With the highest prevalence of HIV in a population ever recorded, we have got to do something to intervene," explained Dr Vusi Magagula. That something is circumcision.

A national campaign has begun, hoping to circumcise 160,000 HIV-negative males before the end of the year. There are 35 doctors and 245 nurses on hand to see that as many men as possible can be circumcised, in a bid to reduce the risk of contracting HIV and other STIs.

The scheme comes after the World Health Organisation publicly called for programmes to circumcise men, following the discovery that populations' traditionally practising male circumcision have lower HIV prevalence.

In fact, a review of 28 studies found that circumcised men are two or three times less likely to be infected with HIV. When looking at African males, they have three to four times less chance of contracting HIV.

However, some people are concerned that men will think a circumcised penis means they don't have to worry about contraception because they'll be immune from contracting HIV and STIs. That's why all men undergoing circumcisions will be given counselling before and after the procedure, told to use condoms and offered HIV screening.

"Circumcision does not mean that I can go anywhere without protecting myself," explained circumcision patient Innocent Kawege. "I will use a condom, if necessary."

The message remains clear: circumcision can slash your chances of contracting HIV by 60%, but it doesn't eradicate it completely. The only way to avoid contracting STIs, like non-specific urethritis, is to use contraceptives like condoms, and always practice safe sex.

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