Is traditional male circumcision effective as an HIV prevention strategy? Evidence from Lesotho

PLoS One. 2017 May 12;12(5):e0177076. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177076. eCollection 2017.


In many developing countries, male circumcision has been promoted as an effective HIV prevention strategy, and medical randomized controlled trials have indeed shown a causal link. However, there is limited empirical evidence to support this conclusion in countries where individuals can voluntary opt for different types of circumcision. The present study considers male circumcision in Lesotho, where HIV prevalence is among the highest in the world (23%). Here, men can opt for one of two types of circumcision: traditional male circumcision in initiation schools, or the medical option in health clinics. This paper investigates whether the former has medical effects on individual HIV status that are as beneficial as those shown for the latter. Controlling for the potential individual behavioral response after the operation, it was found that circumcision performed in initiation schools wholly offset the medical benefits of the surgical procedure. This supports anecdotal evidence that the operation performed by traditional circumcisers does not have the same protective effect against HIV transmission as the medical operation. No evidence of "disinhibition" behavior among circumcised men was found, nor differential risky sexual behavior among men circumcised, traditionally or medically. Considering that, in Lesotho, traditional male circumcision is undertaken by more than 90% of circumcised men, the findings highlight the need for further research into how the operation in initiation schools is performed and its medical benefits.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Circumcision, Male / standards*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Lesotho / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The author received no specific funding for this work.