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      Association of the ANRS-12126 Male Circumcision Project with HIV Levels among Men in a South African Township: Evaluation of Effectiveness using Cross-sectional Surveys


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          Betran Auvert and colleagues report findings from the Bophelo Pele project, a community-based HIV prevention intervention offering free voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), that demonstrate an association between VMMC roll-out and a reduction in the incidence and prevalence of HIV in the community.

          Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary



          Randomized controlled trials have shown that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) reduces HIV infection by 50% to 60% in sub-Saharan African populations; however, little is known about the population-level effect of adult male circumcision (MC) as an HIV prevention method. We assessed the effectiveness of VMMC roll-out on the levels of HIV in the South African township of Orange Farm where the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the effect of VMMC on HIV acquisition was conducted in 2002–2005.

          Methods and Findings

          The Bophelo Pele project is a community-based campaign against HIV, which includes the roll-out of free VMMC. A baseline cross-sectional biomedical survey was conducted in 2007–2008 among a random sample of 1,998 men aged 15 to 49 (survey response rate 80.7%). In 2010–2011, we conducted a follow-up random survey among 3,338 men aged 15 to 49 (survey response rate 79.6%) to evaluate the project. Participants were interviewed, blood samples were collected and tested for HIV and recent HIV infection (using the BED HIV incidence assay), and MC status was assessed through a clinical examination. Data were analyzed using multivariate and propensity statistical methods.

          Owing to the VMMCs performed in the context of the RCT and the Bophelo Pele project, the prevalence rate of adult MC increased from 0.12 (95% CI 0.10–0.14) to 0.53 (95% CI 0.51–0.55). Without these VMMCs, the HIV prevalence rate in 2010–2011 would have been 19% (95% CI 12%–26%) higher (0.147 instead of 0.123).

          When comparing circumcised and uncircumcised men, no association of MC status with sexual behavior was detected. Among circumcised and uncircumcised men, the proportion consistently using condoms with non-spousal partners in the past 12 months was 44.0% (95% CI 41.7%–46.5%) versus 45.4% (95% CI 42.2%–48.6%) with weighted prevalence rate ratio (wPRR) = 0.94 (95% CI 0.85–1.03). The proportion having two or more non-spousal partners was 50.4% (95% CI 47.9%–52.9%) versus 44.2% (95% CI 41.3%–46.9%) with wPRR = 1.03 (95% CI 0.95–1.10).

          We found a reduction of BED-estimated HIV incidence rate ranging from 57% (95% CI 29%–76%) to 61% (95% CI 14%–83%) among circumcised men in comparison with uncircumcised men.


          Findings suggest that the roll-out of VMMC in Orange Farm is associated with a significant reduction of HIV levels in the community. The main limitation of the study is that it was not randomized and cannot prove a causal association. The roll-out of VMMC among adults in sub-Saharan Africa should be an international priority and needs to be accelerated to effectively combat the spread of HIV.

          Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary

          Editors' Summary


          Every year about 2.2 million people (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV transmission is extremely important. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few sexual partners, and by always using a male or female condom. The results of three randomized controlled trials conducted in sub-Saharan Africa also suggest that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)—the removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can reduce the heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men by 50%–60%. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended that VMMC should be offered as part of comprehensive HIV risk reduction programs in settings with generalized HIV epidemics and low levels of male circumcision and prioritized 14 east and southern African countries for VMMC roll-out.

          Why Was This Study Done?

          To date, about 3 million VMMCs have been performed for HIV prevention but it is not known whether “real world” VMMC roll-out programs will replicate the promising results obtained in the earlier trials. Indeed, there are fears that “risk compensation” (an increase in risky sexual behaviors after VMMC) might lead to increased HIV transmission in regions where VMMC is rolled out. In this study, the researchers use sequential cross-sectional surveys (studies that collect data from a group of people at a single time point) to investigate HIV infection levels in men in Orange Farm, a township in South Africa where one of the randomized controlled trials of VMMC was undertaken. The surveys were conducted before and after implementation of the Bophelo Pele project, a community-based campaign against HIV that was initiated in 2008 and that includes free VMMC.

          What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

          The researchers asked a random sample of nearly 2,000 men aged 15–49 years about their sexual behavior (for example, how many non-spousal partners they had had over the past year), and their intention to become circumcised if uncircumcised in a baseline survey in 2007–2008. The study participants were also offered HIV counseling and testing (including a test that indicated whether the participant had recently become HIV positive) and were examined to see whether they were already circumcised. A similar follow-up survey was conducted in 2010–2011 in which more than 3,000 men were invited to take part. At baseline, 12% of the men surveyed had been circumcised (a prevalence of circumcision of 12%) whereas in the follow-up survey, the overall prevalence of circumcision and the prevalence of circumcision among 15–29 year-olds (an important target group for VMMC roll-out) were 53% and 58%, respectively. The overall HIV prevalence at follow-up was 12% and the researchers estimated that without the VMMCs performed during the Bophelo Pele project and the preceding randomized control trial the prevalence of HIV among men living in Orange Farm would have been 15% in 2011. Using various cut-off values and corrections for a laboratory-based test to measure recent HIV infections, the researchers reported a reduction in the rate of new HIV infections (incidence rate) ranging from 57% to 61% among circumcised men in comparison with uncircumcised men. Importantly, there was no evidence of an association between circumcision status and risky sexual behavior but circumcision was associated with a reduction in the number of men who had recently become HIV positive.

          What Do These Findings Mean?

          These findings suggest that VMMC roll out in Orange Farm is associated with a reduction in HIV infection levels in the community and that circumcision is not associated with changes in sexual behavior that might affect HIV infection rates. They also suggest that VMMC roll-out is associated with a rapid uptake of VMMC, especially among young men, in an African community where male circumcision is not a social norm. Because this study is not a randomized controlled trial, it cannot establish cause and effect. Thus, although the observed reduction in HIV prevalence among circumcised men compared to uncircumcised men suggests that circumcision provided protection against HIV acquisition within the study population, the results do not conclusively prove this. The findings of this study nevertheless support the continuation and acceleration of the roll-out of adult VMMC in Africa although further studies are needed to show whether VMMC roll-out is also associated with a reduction in HIV acquisition among women and among uncircumcised men.

          Additional Information

          Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001509.

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          Most cited references27

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          The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects

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            Male circumcision for HIV prevention in young men in Kisumu, Kenya: a randomised controlled trial.

            Male circumcision could provide substantial protection against acquisition of HIV-1 infection. Our aim was to determine whether male circumcision had a protective effect against HIV infection, and to assess safety and changes in sexual behaviour related to this intervention. We did a randomised controlled trial of 2784 men aged 18-24 years in Kisumu, Kenya. Men were randomly assigned to an intervention group (circumcision; n=1391) or a control group (delayed circumcision, 1393), and assessed by HIV testing, medical examinations, and behavioural interviews during follow-ups at 1, 3, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. HIV seroincidence was estimated in an intention-to-treat analysis. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, with the number NCT00059371. The trial was stopped early on December 12, 2006, after a third interim analysis reviewed by the data and safety monitoring board. The median length of follow-up was 24 months. Follow-up for HIV status was incomplete for 240 (8.6%) participants. 22 men in the intervention group and 47 in the control group had tested positive for HIV when the study was stopped. The 2-year HIV incidence was 2.1% (95% CI 1.2-3.0) in the circumcision group and 4.2% (3.0-5.4) in the control group (p=0.0065); the relative risk of HIV infection in circumcised men was 0.47 (0.28-0.78), which corresponds to a reduction in the risk of acquiring an HIV infection of 53% (22-72). Adjusting for non-adherence to treatment and excluding four men found to be seropositive at enrollment, the protective effect of circumcision was 60% (32-77). Adverse events related to the intervention (21 events in 1.5% of those circumcised) resolved quickly. No behavioural risk compensation after circumcision was observed. Male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition in young men in Africa. Where appropriate, voluntary, safe, and affordable circumcision services should be integrated with other HIV preventive interventions and provided as expeditiously as possible.
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              Male circumcision for HIV prevention in men in Rakai, Uganda: a randomised trial.

              Ecological and observational studies suggest that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV acquisition in men. Our aim was to investigate the effect of male circumcision on HIV incidence in men. 4996 uncircumcised, HIV-negative men aged 15-49 years who agreed to HIV testing and counselling were enrolled in this randomised trial in rural Rakai district, Uganda. Men were randomly assigned to receive immediate circumcision (n=2474) or circumcision delayed for 24 months (2522). HIV testing, physical examination, and interviews were repeated at 6, 12, and 24 month follow-up visits. The primary outcome was HIV incidence. Analyses were done on a modified intention-to-treat basis. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, with the number NCT00425984. Baseline characteristics of the men in the intervention and control groups were much the same at enrollment. Retention rates were much the same in the two groups, with 90-92% of participants retained at all time points. In the modified intention-to-treat analysis, HIV incidence over 24 months was 0.66 cases per 100 person-years in the intervention group and 1.33 cases per 100 person-years in the control group (estimated efficacy of intervention 51%, 95% CI 16-72; p=0.006). The as-treated efficacy was 55% (95% CI 22-75; p=0.002); efficacy from the Kaplan-Meier time-to-HIV-detection as-treated analysis was 60% (30-77; p=0.003). HIV incidence was lower in the intervention group than it was in the control group in all sociodemographic, behavioural, and sexually transmitted disease symptom subgroups. Moderate or severe adverse events occurred in 84 (3.6%) circumcisions; all resolved with treatment. Behaviours were much the same in both groups during follow-up. Male circumcision reduced HIV incidence in men without behavioural disinhibition. Circumcision can be recommended for HIV prevention in men.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS Med
                PLoS Med
                PLoS Medicine
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                September 2013
                September 2013
                3 September 2013
                : 10
                : 9
                : e1001509
                [1 ]UMRS-1018, CESP, INSERM Villejuif, France
                [2 ]AP-HP, Hôpital Ambroise Paré, Boulogne, France
                [3 ]University of Versailles-Saint Quentin, Versailles, France
                [4 ]Progressus, Johannesburg, South Africa
                [5 ]National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa
                [6 ]AP-HP, Hôpital Bichat - Claude-Bernard, Paris, France
                [7 ]Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America
                [8 ]Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
                Rwanda Ministry of Health, Rwanda
                Author notes

                GP has received travel grants, consultancy fees, honoraria, or study grants from various pharmaceutical companies including Abbott, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Janssen, Merck, Roche, Splicos, and ViiV Healthcare. GP is a member of different committees of the French National Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (HIV Pharmacology, HIV Resistance, Therapeutic Strategy on HIV and Viral Hepatitis). All other authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: BA. Performed the experiments: DT DR BS GP AP DL. Analyzed the data: BA PL JB GM RS. Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: BA. Contributed to the writing of the manuscript: BA DT DR PL BS JB GP GM RS AP DL. ICMJE criteria for authorship read and met: BA DT DR PL BS JB GP GM RS AP DL. Agree with manuscript results and conclusions: BA DT DR PL BS JB GP GM RS AP DL. Enrolled patients: DT DR.

                Copyright @ 2013

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                : 26 September 2012
                : 26 July 2013
                Page count
                Pages: 12
                Funding and sponsorship for this study was provided by the French Agency for AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Research (ANRS; grant 12126). Additional funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF; USA; OPP1021324), and PEPFAR (USA) through USAID. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Infectious Diseases
                Sexually Transmitted Diseases
                Viral Diseases
                HIV epidemiology
                HIV prevention
                Infectious Disease Control
                Public Health
                Behavioral and Social Aspects of Health



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