HIV rates among circumcised men in South Africa higher than expected

A new study co-led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found surprisingly high HIV rates among older Mpumalanga men in South Africa who had undergone medical circumcision.

The study surveyed 2,345 Mpumalanga men over the age of 40 and found that 31% of respondents who had circumcision when older were HIV positive, a rate higher than uncircumcised Mpumalanga men, according to an August 14, 2018 article in Business Day.

Studies have suggested that male circumcision can reduce the chance of contracting HIV by roughly 60%. The new findings indicate that it needs to be better communicated to men and women that circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV, according to Till Bärnighausen, a co-author of study and an adjunct professor in Department of Global Health and Population, and Molly Rosenberg, a co-author and former Bell Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

The researchers proposed several theories to explain the unexpected finding, including the possibility that HIV positive men are opting for circumcision at higher rates and that men engage in riskier sexual behavior after circumcision.