Firsts in history are always exciting. Think back to the first time we landed on the moon. The first time we accessed the Internet. And now, for the first time in history, we can say that millions of new HIV infections will be prevented thanks to the unprecedented scale-up of an important public health intervention -- voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC).
Modeling shows that the effectiveness of VMMC (over 60 percent) is comparable to having a vaccine, with a one-time intervention protecting people and their partners for a lifetime.
Thanks to a collection of studies in sub-Saharan Africa, we now know that safe, high-quality VMMC services can be implemented and sustained at scale by trained health care professionals in low resource settings. These new research findings, published by the PLOS Collection and funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, examines the progress of a program aimed to circumcise 20.3 million boys in 14 priority countries by 2016.
This program has the potential to prevent 3.4 million new HIV infections, according to estimates from PEPFAR and UNAIDS published in 2011. How amazing that a relatively simple surgical intervention can provide such lasting health benefits for adolescent and adult men! Not to mention the $16 billion in medical treatment costs that would be averted over 15 years.
Through its work under PEPFAR, USAID is committed to improving health systems that are able to deliver a high volume of VMMC services as well as services that are efficient, cost-effective and in high demand. As of the end of 2013, PEPFAR has supported countries in eastern and southern Africa to perform more than 4.7 million VMMC services for HIV prevention. Not only are these services saving the lives of thousands of men, women, and children through infections averted, but the VMMC story also holds great lessons for many other public health interventions.
What has been achieved in a relatively short period of time is remarkable and a testament to what the international community can accomplish if it works together with countries hardest hit by the epidemic. Now we can all look forward to the first time the world gives birth to an AIDS-free generation.
Follow Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AMPablos