Study shows male circumcision
may help prevent AIDS transmission
Mindanews / 24 October 2004

DAVAO CITY -- Can circumcision prevent the transmission of Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)?

Apparently it can, or so says Bathaluman Crisis Center Foundation chair Prof. Luz Ilagan, citing an HIV situation study by Ford Foundation done earlier this year.

According to the study, she said, the prepuce or the foreskin in uncircumcised males can actually hinder the penis from producing lysozymes, an enzyme which some claim can prevent HIV.

She said this is probably why the Philippines AIDS/HIV transmission is categorized by the Department of Health as "low and slow."

"Most Filipinos are circumcised, there are arguments that (cutting) the foreskin can increase lysozyme and prevent AIDS," she told some 100 participants in the

6th General Assembly of Alliance Against AIDS in Mindanao (ALAGAD-Mindanao) last Friday at the Sangguniang Panlungsod session hall.

She said circumcision is also hygienic as the prepuce can "trap many germs" in the penis.

But Rosita Cueto, head of the city's Social Hygiene Clinic, said there are no concrete studies to really conclude that circumcision can prevent AIDS. "It might be mentioned in a journal somewhere but I generally ignore it if it's not conclusive," she said.

A report on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic by UNAIDS in June 2000 cited that in Africa, circumcision "seems to confer some protection."

A study in Nyanza Province, Kenya for the same ethnic group,for example, found that one-quarter of uncircumcised men were infected with HIV, compared with just under one-tenth of circumcised men.

The timing is also important as 16 percent of men who were circumcised after the age 21 were infected with HIV while only seven percent of those circumcised before puberty, the report added.

The UN report also carried a warning, that "relying on circumcision for protection is, in these circumstances, a bit like playing Russian roulette," because of the risks involved.

There are about 2,121 HIV-positive cases in the country today, 32 percent of which are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Of the 685 AUDS sufferers, 43 percent have already died.

Ilagan said that aside from circumcision, the low and slow nature of AIDS transmission in the country can be attributed to its archipelagic nature, low injecting drug use, awareness campaigns, high literacy rate, and sexual conservatism.

But she quickly added that sexual conservatism is a double-edged sword, because it can also trigger the spread of several myths about AIDS transmission.

"Ironically, the factor for the slow and low is also a factor that can hasten the spread of AIDS," she said. "Sex is a dirty word only to be whispered and not openly discussed."

She held the schools responsible for the culture of sexual conservatism among the Filipinos because of their hesitancy to teach extensive reproductive health to their students.

The rise in commercial sex, where prostitution "is linked to materialism rather than poverty," and popularity of casual sex, where the partners are getting younger and younger will also pose a challenge in preventing the spread of AIDS.

The decentralization of public health services to the local government units proved to be difficult because of the lack of capacity of some municipalities in fighting and treating AIDS. "Only seven percent has access to medicines as of end of 2003," she said.

An HIV patient needs to shell out P23,000 each month for medicines alone, while it can be reduced to only P17,000 for a "cocktail of drugs."

"The government does not have money for these drugs," she said.