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Cutting-edge Circumcision Research

Published by Johanna Neuke
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Since we became involved with the Canada Africa Prevention Trials Network (CAPTN) in March 2011, WhizzKids United has gotten to know some academics who are doing some very interesting research. But none of the research has been as "cutting edge" as the circumcision study that CAPTN is about to embark on in Edendale.This study, to be coordinated by Pietermaritzburg-based psychologist Rusha Govender, will follow a group of teenage boys over a period of six months after they receive male medical circumcision (MMC).

There are two separate and equally interesting research questions that the study will ultimately attempt to answer. The first is a social science question: how does the participants' sexual risk behaviour change after circumcision as compared to before? Pre-circumcision counselling emphasizes that no sexual activity should occur for six weeks after the operation, and after that risk reduction measures (abstinence, faithfulness and condom use) should still be applied. However, some social scientists worry that circumcised men may feel immune to HIV and consequently compensate for their reduced biomedical risk with more risky behaviour. We hope to ascertain whether this is really happening.

The second research question is biomedical. Male Medical Circumcision has been proven to significantly lower the risk of HIV infection through unprotected sexual intercourse, but scientists do not understand how it lowers the risk from an immunological standpoint. Therefore, as part of the study the foreskins of consenting participants will be kept as tissue samples and analyzed for their immunological properties. It is hypothesized that sexual intercourse leads to immune activation in the foreskin T-cells. These are precisely the cells that HIV attacks, so by removing them there would be less cells for HIV to attack. This is one possible explanation of the preventative effects of MMC which this research study aims to explore. A large global research team is being assembled for the biomedical aspect of the study, and the lead CAPT Network researchers are Dr. Clive Gray from University of Cape Town and Janan Dietrich from the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto.

WhizzKids United is proud to be part of the CAPT Network and to be able to participate in this exciting research which we hope will improve HIV prevention outcomes for our beneficiaries and at-risk men throughout the world.

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