Modeling the Population-Level Effects of Male Circumcision as an HIV-Preventive Measure: A Gendered Perspective
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BACKGROUND: Evidence from biological, epidemiological, and controlled intervention studies has demonstrated that male circumcision (MC) protects males from HIV infection, and MC is now advocated as a public-health intervention against HIV. MC provides direct protection only to men, but is expected to provide indirect protection to women at risk of acquiring HIV from heterosexual transmission. How such indirect protection interacts with the possibility that MC campaigns will lead to behavior changes, however, is not yet well understood. Our objective here is to investigate the link between individual-level effects of MC campaigns and long-term population-level outcomes resulting from disease dynamics, looking at both genders separately, over a broad range of parameters. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We use simple mathematical models of heterosexual transmission to investigate the potential effects of a circumcision scale-up, combined with possible associated behavioral disinhibition. We examine patterns in expected long-term prevalence using a simple equilibrium model based on transmission factors, and validate our results with ODE-based simulations, focusing on the link between effects on females and those on males.We find that the long-term population-level effects on females and males are not strongly linked: there are many possible ways in which an intervention which reduces prevalence in males might nonetheless increase prevalence in females. CONCLUSIONS: Since an intervention that reduces long-term male prevalence could nonetheless increase long-term female prevalence, MC campaigns should explicitly consider both the short-term and long-term effects of MC interventions on females. Our findings strongly underline the importance of pairing MC programs with education, support programs and HIV testing and counseling, together with other prevention measures.
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