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African Men Lose Their Foreskins to Prevent AIDS

At least 100,000 men in Africa have volunteered to be circumcised to lower their chances of catching HIV, four years after studies showing the procedure could prevent infections.

More than 90,000 men have been circumcised in Kenya since October 2008, including 36,000 over 30 working days late last year, researchers from the African nation said at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna today. Kenya, where about 8.5 percent of people are infected with the AIDS-causing virus, plans to circumcise 80 percent of uncircumcised men age 15 to 49 to prevent more than 100,000 HIV infections over the next 10 years.

“When it comes to circumcision, I used to be a skeptic,” Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of Microsoft Corp., said in a speech at the conference yesterday. “I was doubtful that a large number of men would sign up for it. I’m glad to say I was wrong. Wherever there are clinics available, men are volunteering to be circumcised in huge numbers, far more than I expected.”

Three large African studies have shown that circumcision can lower heterosexual men’s risk of infection by the AIDS- causing virus, HIV, by almost two-thirds. The World Health Organization says that HIV-infected men shouldn’t be denied circumcision if requested, as long as there is no medical reason to avoid it.

In a separate study presented today, 14,000 men were circumcised in less than two years in a South African township, representing almost 40 percent of the community’s population. That shows programs to offer the service to men in low-income areas can be effective and safe, researchers from the French National Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis said.

If male circumcision services can be expanded to 80 percent of adult and newborn males in eastern and southern Africa by 2015, more than 4 million new HIV infections could be averted between 2009 and 2025, according to Population Services International, a 40-year-old health organization based in Washington. That could also yield a total net savings of $20.2 billion during the same period.

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