July 2, 2010
A South African tribal king in a province where one in seven residents are HIV-positive is promoting circumcision to help protect his people from the epidemic.
"I don't want to lose any of my Zulu people," explained King Goodwill Zwelithini. In KwaZulu-Natal province, about 350 people are infected with HIV every day and another 320 die from the complications of AIDS.
African studies have shown that male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by 60 percent.
In promoting circumcision, Zwelithini, with the support of the provincial Health Minister Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo, is reviving a long-standing tradition among Zulu men. The king and public health officials are careful to note that circumcision does not provide absolute protection, so other measures, such as wearing condoms, must be used as well.
"Use the condom when the time's come to prevent the problem," Zwelithini said. Public health officials use the occasion of the circumcision itself to inform men about how to prevent HIV infection.
Circumcision is believed to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by removing cells that are susceptible to infection. "By removing [the foreskin] completely, one limits the exposure for HIV to gain acquisition or entry into the body," said Dr. Adrian Puren of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, an author of a 2005 study on the subject.
"This is a perfect example of government working within the bounds of tradition, and that tradition working with modern medicine," Dhlomo said.