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could prevent 1.4 million HIV infections in South Africa

could prevent 1.4 million HIV infections in South Africa

The South African Center for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis said new studies showing circumcision reduced the risk of HIV transmission by up to 60% indicated it was time to study how to implement a circumcision program.

"South Africa stands to benefit more than any other country from male circumcision by virtue of the very high current HIV prevalence and the relatively low rate of circumcision in the country," SACEMA said in a statement. "Over the next 20 years male circumcision in South Africa could avert 1.4 million new cases of HIV and 800,000 HIV deaths."

South Africa has one of the world's largest HIV/AIDS caseloads, with 5.5 million of its 45 million people infected, and studies have warned that the country's epidemic continues to spread at a rapid rate, particularly among the young.

Researchers this month concluded after halting two large clinical trials in Kenya and Uganda that circumcision was a valuable tool in the fight against HIV, echoing results from an earlier study in South Africa.

Experts say the reduced HIV risk may be because cells on the inside of the foreskin, which is removed in circumcision, are particularly susceptible to HIV infection.

Researchers have cautioned that circumcision is not a panacea, that it reduces the chances of infection by at most 60% and that existing programs to encourage condom use and reduction in numbers of sexual partners must continue.

South Africa's health ministry has reacted cautiously to the two studies, saying it needs time to review their conclusions.

"Prevention of infections remains the mainstay of our national response to HIV and AIDS. The broad range of prevention measures, including the correct and consistent use of condoms, continues to be implemented to reverse the tide of HIV and AIDS," the ministry said in a statement.

SACEMA, which was involved in the first South African study on circumcision, said it was time to consider ramping up a national circumcision campaign.

"SACEMA is keen to assist wherever possible to support operational research to investigate the feasibility, acceptability, and safety of large-scale male circumcision in South Africa," the group said. (Reuters)

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