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Circumcision Zimbabwe's shield against Aids

About 3,000 men have been circumcised since the south east African nation started a campaign last summer. Circumcision is not widespread in Zimbabwe, but the centuries-old procedure is now being used as a key weapon in the country's fight against the spread of HIV and Aids. Zimbabwe is experiencing one of the harshest AIDS epidemics in the world, with about one in seven adults living with HIV. Over the next eight years, the country aims to carry out the operation on 80 per cent of all its young men – three million people altogether.

Since they started operating in 2008, doctors at the Bophelo medical male circumcision centre have circumcised about 16 000 men in Orange Farm, a township south of Johannesburg. Ten thousand of the circumcisions were done last year alone, said the African news service, allAfrica. This year, the centre is hoping to increase that figure substantially. And that is likely judging by the eagerness of men in their teens and early 20s, who arrive at Bophelo because they've heard of the free circumcision service from friends.

Male circumcision grew popular in the community after a study conducted in the area showed it protects men from contracting HIV infection by up to 60 per cent. In light of these findings, the government will this year bring in a policy that will make medical male circumcision an official intervention in HIV prevention. Circumcision lowers the risk of HIV infection because the inner layer of the foreskin is particularly susceptible to tearing and abrasions during sex, allowing the virus to enter the bloodstream more easily. "It's the most effective intervention that we know today which can really save a lot of lives in terms of HIV acquisition," said Dr Karin Hatzold, whose US-based group Population Services International sponsors the project. "But 60% is not 100%, so male circumcision should not be sold as the magic bullet,” she told the BBC. "All the other behaviour interventions [such as abstinence and faithfulness] as well as the use of male and female condoms are as important, so they should all be used together."

Zimbabwe has ramped up its expenditure on HIV prevention in recent years and says its HIV figures have been improving since 2007, when prevalence was more than 18 per cent. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children