Tags: Kenya | circumcision | afrkica | aids

Male Circumcision Helps Africa Fight AIDS

Monday, 30 November 2009 09:28 AM

WAKULA BEACH, Lake Victoria, Kenya — Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria, two hours by motorboat from mainland Kenya, is a popular destination spot for honeymooners on safari: a verdant fishing outpost without electricity or running water.

But this remote locale is the epicenter of Kenya’s AIDS crisis. And so, besides the honeymooners, this island also attracts NGO-workers armed with pamphlets and condoms and behavior-change slogans. The residents are used to the visitors. Samuel Gabari, a 21-year-old fisherman, answers my questions about his sexual habits as if reciting from a script.

“I only have one sexual partner,” he says. “And I always use condoms.”

The truth is more complicated. Sex here, like anywhere else, is often a mixture of business and pleasure. Gabari says fishermen can make $7-$25 a day, a kingly salary in this region. He’s constantly traveling from beach to beach, following the fish, sailing far from his girlfriend. At each beach there are temptations. “You have money, the women don’t have money, so they fall for you!” says Gabari. “That is part of the game!”

Even though everyone on this island seems to have memorized the catchphrases of AIDS prevention — “Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms” — those messages haven’t had much impact. About 21 percent of people on this island are infected with HIV, three times the national rate of 7 percent.

Now NGO-workers are offering fishermen like Gabari a new prevention tool: circumcision. The link between circumcision and reduced HIV susceptibility has been suspected since the mid-1980s, when AIDS researchers observed that circumcised Kenyan men who engaged with prostitutes were less likely to get infected. By 2007, three random clinical trials [GW1] in sub-Saharan Africa showed that circumcision reduced the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by 50 to 60 percent.

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Monday, 30 November 2009 09:28 AM
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