The new funding is in addition to the R360 million the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) has already committed to South Africa this year, and is the result of the USA’s vigorous promotion of male circumcision as a preventive measure against HIV infection.
HIV prevention research show that circumcision helps reduce the risk of men contracting the virus from an infected female partner by up to 60%.
“We [the US government] have shifted our focus to high-impact HIV prevention measures. Medical male circumcision is at the top of our list,” US Global AIDS Coordinator, Eric Goosby told the media after touring Cape Town’s Woodstock Community Centre this week.
Since the South African Department of Health launched its national circumcision programme two years ago, around one million men have been circumcised. And the department hoped to bring that number up to 4.6 million by 2016.
In addition to HIV, circumcision offers protection against several other conditions, including urinary tract infections in baby boys, and penile cancer, chancroid and human papillomavirus in adult men. Female sexual partners of circumcised men benefit too, experiencing lower rates of cervical cancer and chlamydia.
A natural condom?
The benefits of circumcision as an anti-HIV preventative measure were made public at the 2007 International Aids Society Conference on HIV Pathogenises, Treatment and Prevention. The findings were a result of trials conducted in South Africa, Uganda and Kenya.
Speaking at the launch, Robert Bailey, a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Illinois likened circumcision to a vaccine. "It’s not a perfect vaccine, but it is about 60% effective in preventing new HIV infections in adult heterosexual men."
However, the news continues to be cautiously welcomed, with many still concerned it could also encourage riskier sexual behaviour.
There are now one million new HIV infections in South Africa since 2008, the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) revealed recently. And the number of people using condoms has dropped.
“From the behavioural findings of our survey, we can see a significant decline in condom use, especially among the 15 to 24 age group,” said HSRC’s Prof Leickness Simbayi, expressing concern over the lack in behaviour change reflected by the poor rates of condom use.
Since the circumcision findings were made public, the programme has received the full support of the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, who said it “should be considered as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package”.