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Circumcising Babies Could Help Africa's AIDS Fight

Wed, 01/20/2010 - 5:36am

Kate Kelland, Reuters

Circumcising newborn boys to stop them from becoming infected with the AIDS virus in later life is more cost-effective than circumcising adult men, Rwandan health experts stated. A study by Agnes Binagwaho and colleagues at Rwanda's health ministry found that the operation, which has been shown to cut dramatically the virus' transmission from women to men, is quicker, simpler and more cost-effective in newborns.

The findings suggest that Rwanda should be simultaneously scaling up circumcision across a broad range of age groups, with high priority to the very young, Binagwaho wrote in the study. Researchers analyzed the balance between the costs of medical intervention and its overall benefits. They found each newborn male circumcision would cost $15, while each adolescent or adult operation would cost $59.

They also found that circumcising male babies would ultimately save more money than it costs, because the operation would prevent HIV infections that are expensive to treat and lead to AIDS, which kills. The disease has killed around 25 million people since it was identified in the early 1980s and an estimated 33 million people around the world are infected, most of them in Africa. The penis foreskin is rich in cells that are particularly easily infected.

A study by U.S. and Ugandan researchers last year found that male circumcision helps protect men from the AIDS virus but it does not protect the wives and female partners of infected men.

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