The benefits of medical male circumcision have been proven to also extend to women. It has been shown that female partners of men who are circumcised have a less risk of contracting the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
For many years, men have been the direct recipients of messages on medical male circumcision and its benefits. One of them being that it reduces the risk of HIV infection in men. Now women are being made aware that having a circumcised partner does not only protect him, but also protects the woman from getting the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which ultimately leads to cancer. Cindra Feuer from AVAC, the Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, explains.
“A man who is circumcised... he’s less likely to transmit HPV, he’s less likely to transmit herpes and other sexually transmitted infections. There is data that shows that it reduces transmission of HPV from men to women - and other STI’s. HPV causes cervical cancer and also causes penile cancer in men. The reason why it is protective is because when a man has a foreskin, there are cells in the foreskin that attract HIV, so they are more vulnerable to HIV than if there was no foreskin. And, also, it’s a warm place... bacteria can grow more”, says Cindra Feuer, form the AVAC Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention.
A random study done in Uganda between 2003 and 2006 sought to investigate whether an HIV negative circumcised man can reduce the chances of his HIV-negative female partner from contracting HPV. After 24 months, the study found that more than 38% of women whose partners were uncircumcised had high risk HPV infection compared to 27.8% of women whose partners were circumcised.
From the study’s findings it is now recommended that medical male circumcision should be accepted as an effective intervention for reducing the prevalence and incidence of HPV infection in women. But many women are not aware that medical male circumcision is beneficial for them, as evidenced by these two women I met.
“This is new information to me and I believe it’s good now that I know. And other women should, too. Many times they tell us about HIV and never inform us about cancer - and cervical cancer is very serious. I will encourage women to talk to their partners because cancer is a slow killer. It is worse than HIV, so women need to know this for their own life and health as well”.
“I wasn’t aware. I always thought since it is about the guy, it only benefits them. I really didn’t know. This is something I have never thought about”, the women said.
It would seem there is a lack of information out there for women about the benefits of medical male circumcision. Dr Dimakatso Lebina of Zuzimpilo Medical Centre in downtown Jo’burg, says there are small, but steady efforts to make this information available.
“Now there is a shift towards that change because we know, as healthcare professionals, women utilise the services more than men. And unless the women were not informed of these benefits, we would not have as many men as we are having now to request the services. Some men are brought by their partners who have read about these benefits”, she says.