Million man snip: Men in Africa flock to get circumcised to protect against AIDS

A man waits to undergo a circumcison procedure at a donor-funded clinic in Kisumu, Kenya.
A man waits to undergo a circumcision procedure at a donor-funded clinic in Kisumu, Kenya. TONY KARUMBA

Nearly two million men have volunteered to be circumcised using U.S. funding in 14 African countries to protect themselves against the AIDS virus, health officials said Wednesday.

It’s a small step forward in the fight against the deadly virus, which infects 35 million people globally and has killed another 36 million people, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said in 2011 it would help pay for 4.7 million or more voluntary circumcisions over the next two years.

Mpho Dorothy Seretse of Botswana’s health ministry, Jonathan Grund of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues in nine African countries reported on circumcisions in PEPFAR-funded clinics between 2010 and 2012.

“During 2010–2012, approximately 1,020,424 males were circumcised at CDC-supported sites in the nine countries,” they wrote in the CDC’s weekly report on death and illness. It takes a while to gather this kind of information and the report doesn’t say how many men were circumcised in 2013. But it notes the numbers jumped every year, from 137,000 circumcisions in 2010 to more than 500,000 last year.

Several studies have shown that circumcising heterosexual men reduces their infection rate by at least 60 percent and some studies show it’s by 65 percent or more. Africa bears the brunt of the AIDS pandemic; 70 percent of all people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus live in Africa.

And most new infections there are through heterosexual intercourse.

The United Nations calculates that if 20 million high-risk men were circumcised by 2015, 20 percent of HIV infections would be prevented over the next 10 years. That could save $16.6 billion in future medical costs.

Circumcision protects men for a number of reasons. The foreskin is full of the immune system cells that are the most vulnerable to the virus. The tender tissue can also get tiny tears and scratches during sex that give the virus an easier entry point. And men with foreskins are far more likely to get other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which, in turn, raise the likelihood of HIV infection.

So PEPFAR made agreements with 14 countries to focus on getting men circumcised. “During October 2009 –September 2012, a total of 1,924,792 (voluntary circumcisions) were performed in 14 countries using PEPFAR funding provided through U.S. government agencies,” the report reads.

Grund’s team focused on the results from 1,600 clinics getting PEPFAR money in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. They found fewer than 1 percent had adverse reactions.

The nine countries have scaled up efforts to try to get to the PEPFAR goal of 4.7 million circumcisions by next month.

· Follow NBCNewsHealth on Facebook and on Twitter 

· Follow Maggie Fox on Facebook and on Twitter