The study aims to investigate the potential for an intervention based on male circumcision in a South African town with a high level of HIV infection. It draws on two cross-sectional studies conducted in August 2000 among a sample of 606 male adults aged 13-59 years, and in August 1999 among a sample of 723 male youth aged 14-24 years. A qualitative study was further conducted on perceptions and attitudes towards male circumcision using focus group discussions and in-depth interview. Among men aged 25-59 years, 36% reported being circumcised. The median reported age at circumcision was 20. A total of 42% of 14-24-year-old circumcised men reported having been circumcised in a medical setting. Circumcised and uncircumcised men did not differ in their sexual behaviour or in sociodemographic characteristics, apart from their age and ethnic group. Among 467 uncircumcised adult men, 59% said that they would be circumcised if circumcision reduced the chances of getting HIV and STDs. Focus group discussions showed that circumcision is still important to many people, and is seen as an essential part of the transition into adulthood. Reluctance to be circumcised was mainly related to the possibility of adverse outcomes of circumcision performed in non-medical settings, although initiation schools remain attractive for education and transmission of cultural values. Some misconceptions remain, however, especially about the preventative nature of circumcision for STD transmission. The cultural importance of male circumcision has weakened over the last century and when it is done it is often by a medical practitioner. An intervention that would include male circumcision seems feasible in communities such as the one where this study was conducted but needs to be carefully planned in order to ensure that participants understand that circumcision probably reduces, but certainly does not eliminate, the risk of HIV infection
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