Ground-breaking research presented at the recent International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017) in Paris suggests that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) could lower HIV risk for women by as much as 30%.

It is already well-known that women whose male partners are circumcised can benefit from a reduced risk of genital ulcers, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes and syphilis, bacterial vaginosis and T vaginalis, but until now there has been little evidence of its protective benefits against HIV for women.

COO for CareWorks – an HIV management organisation, Rachael Rawlinson, describes the research as a break-through discovery.

“Almost a decade ago, a meta-analysis found no evidence to suggest that male circumcision directly reduced the risk of women acquiring HIV. It only pointed to lowering a man’s lifetime risk of contracting HIV by 60%, which makes this new finding so significant. Now there’s no disputing VMMC as an important HIV prevention measure, which has benefits for both men and women,” said Rawlinson.

The study was conducted in KwaZulu-Natal where HIV prevalence is high and analysed data from the HIV Incidence Provincial Surveillance System (HIPSS) – a longitudinal cohort which comprised 4,766 women between the ages of 15 and 49.

Researchers found that women whose most recent partner was circumcised had lower rates of HIV (42%) than women whose partner was not circumcised (54%).

In a multivariable analysis, which attempted to control for the skewing effect of the differences between the two groups of women, such as age, women with circumcised partners had a 30% lower likelihood of having HIV and were also less likely to have herpes.

Of the men who participated in the same study, those who were circumcised were less likely to have HIV and STIs – adding weight to previous study findings.

Rawlinson points out that another plus for female partners is that male circumcision plays an important role in curbing the incidence of cervical cancer, which is the most common female cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years in South Africa.

“A Ugandan study revealed that the prevalence of the human papilloma virus (HPV) – responsible for most cervical cancer cases – was 35% lower among the group of circumcised men who participated in the trial, which significantly decreases the risk of passing the virus on to women,” said Rawlinson.

Local female celebrities, such as actress Renate Stuurman; Nomalanga Shozi of Rhythm City fame; model and Muvhangu actress, Omuhle Gela; pop singer, Thembi Seete; media personality, Khutso Theledi; Binnelanders actress, Quanita Adams; and model and TV presenter, Refilwe Modiselle have all come out in support of VMMC during National Women’s Month this August as part of Community Media Trust’s (CMT) “Man Up” campaign to create broader awareness around the benefits of VMMC.

Renate Stuurman says the campaign creates an environment for men (and women) to openly discuss what can sometimes be a sensitive issue, to protect themselves and their family. “It’s a simple procedure that has real life benefits.”

Since 2010, the demand for VMMC has increased primarily because of government’s efforts to curb new HIV infections in the country, but more men still need to be cut to make a difference.

For further information on VMMC or to book a free procedure, SMS your full name to 35255 and a trained VMMC counsellor will call you back.

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