Circumcisions will be performed within the next five years on 20 million African men to help reduce the spread of AIDS, according to a program announced Monday night by the US government and UN and advocated by the Jerusalem-based Operation Abraham project.

UNAIDS and the Obama administration announced the initiative in Geneva, saying that the five-year program will save more than 3.4 million people from being infected with HIV, and $16.5 billion in national and international funds that would have been spent to cope with the disease.

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A delegation of Israeli ritual circumcisors (mohalim) returned last week from a two-week trip to Africa, where they helped the UN write medical protocols for the mass operations according to Israel’s experience.

Israel has circumcised about 100,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia who converted to Judaism or whose religious status was not recognized without it.

Israel’s major contribution to the struggle against AIDS in the Third World, where the disease is endemic, is advocating male circumcisions and showing how it has been done here for ritual, rather than strictly medical, reasons.

Jewish boys are ritually circumcised at eight days and Muslim boys at an older age, making adult circumcisions around the world rare.

Studies from five years ago clearly proved that removing the foreskin – where the virus can hide – can reduce by 60 percent the risk of a man getting infected with the HIV virus during sex. So far, 14 targeted countries in Africa have adopted the WHO’s directive to include circumcision in their public health programs, and some of them have already started their mass surgeries.

An Israeli team from the Jerusalem AIDS Project, along with eight medical centers, launched Operation Abraham and wrote the protocols for the UNAIDS/US project. Israeli volunteer physicians and operating room nurses, funded by donations, began in 2007 to perform the circumcisions, in coordination with local medical authorities, in Swaziland.

The project continued in South Africa and is due to expand to four more countries next year.

Currently, the Israelis are giving professional advice to African medical staffers on how to set up clinics and perform the operation on teenage and adult men. So far, the Israeli organization has helped to set up three mass circumcision clinics in Swaziland and 10 in South Africa. Some 40 Israeli surgeons and nurses have participated and trained 150 local medical staff to safely and speedily do the surgery with local anesthesia. By the end of December, tens of thousands of such operations will have been performed.

Out of every five men and teenage boys, one will certainly be saved from contracting HIV, said Dr. Inon Schenker, the initiator and director of Operation Abraham.

Dr. Eitan Gross, a pediatric surgeon at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, is the project’s medical director, and Dr. Lilach Meletzky headed the delegation that recently returned from Africa. Hanni Rosenberg is head of the Israel AIDS Project.

During the recent visit to Kwazulu-Natal, the Israeli circumcisors helped set up circumcision clinics that performed quick operations on members of the royal personal guard of the king of Zulu, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, and thousands of of youths who are about to go on vacation in South Africa.

Schenker said that Israel’s expertise in adult circumcision, necessitated by voluntary conversion of immigrants to Israel, is unique in the world and that it is contributing directly to the saving of many lives and boosting of medical know-how in the Third World. Indirectly, it has helped improve the image of Israeli medicine in the world and that of Israel in general in Africa, the UN and the US, he added.

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