July 20, 2009

Activists say S. Africa lags in HIV fight

Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved if South Africa promoted circumcision as a way to prevent AIDS, activists said.

South Africa has no shortage of scientists, said Olive Shisana, chief executive officer of South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council. We have a shortage of people willing to take the evidence that exists and use it for public health.

Circumcision reduces a man's risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS, by about 60 percent, Shisana said. Yet two years after the World Health Organization recommended the surgery, South Africa still does not provide circumcision to help fight HIV, and does not educate the public about its benefits, The New York Times reported Monday.

Botswana, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, in contrast, promote circumcision and thousands of men have had the surgery or are seeking it, the Times reported.

In those countries, public awareness is being raised through advertisements on radio and television, and in Botswana billboards promoting circumcision feature a star of the national youth soccer team.