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Biblical practice found to greatly reduce spread of AIDS

A study of more than 3,000 South African men found that male circumcision—a practice God commanded for the patriarch Abraham and the ancient Israelites (Genesis 17:10-12; Joshua 5:2-5)—dramatically reduces the risk of contracting AIDS.

At the International AIDS Society conference in Rio de Janeiro in July, French researcher Bertran Auvert reported that circumcised men in the study contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, at a rate less than a third that of uncircumcised men.

The study tracked 3,273 uninfected South African men ages 18 to 24 over 21/2 years. Half the men were randomly assigned to be left uncircumcised while the other half were circumcised. By the end of the study researchers found that for every 10 uncircumcised men who contracted HIV through sex with HIV-infected women, only three of the circumcised men became infected.

The results were so dramatic that the study was ended nine months early. The researchers concluded it would be unethical to continue without offering the uncircumcised group the opportunity to be circumcised and perhaps save their lives.

This was the largest study to date correlating circumcision's effect on HIV infection. Some 35 previous studies have indicated a link between circumcision and lower rates of HIV infection.

Researchers have long suspected a link because HIV rates are much lower in regions of Africa where circumcision is practiced. For example, in areas where circumcision isn't common, such as eastern South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, adult HIV infection rates are above 30 percent while the comparable rate is less than 5 percent in West Africa where males are commonly circumcised.

Researchers also believe that male circumcision reduces transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes and syphilis.

"Male circumcision must be recognized as an important means to fight the spread of HIV infection and the international community must mobilize to promote it," concluded Dr. Auvert in the abstract of his presentation at the AIDS conference. "The first thing to do is to offer safe male circumcision to those who want to be circumcised. We must adapt the health system so that it can afford male circumcision," he urged.

Francois Venter, a South African AIDS expert, in September urged adoption of male circumcision as the most effective "vaccine" for AIDS in his country, where some 6 million are infected with the virus and more than 600 die from AIDS daily. "We dream of a vaccine which has this efficacy," he said. "The results are phenomenal."

While the Bible spells out no specific health benefits for circumcision, and tells us that physical circumcision is no longer required, modern science continues to find solid reasons for paying close attention to its benefits.

Of course, the only sure solution for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is spelled out in the Bible—to avoid all sexual activity outside of marriage (Exodus 20:14; 1 Corinthians 6:18). Only then can we avoid the diseases, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, emotional turmoil and other suffering brought on by ignorance of or disobedience to God's instruction in this regard.

©2004 United Church of God, an International Association
Used with permission.

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