Understanding the partial protection of male circumcision for HIV prevention among women in Iringa Region, Tanzania: An ethnomedical model

Erica H. Layer, Sarah W. Beckham, Romani B. Momburi, Caitlin E. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Communicating the partial efficacy of male circumcision for HIV prevention is challenging. Understanding how people conceptualize risk can help programs communicate messages in a way that is understandable to local communities. This article explores women's ethnomedical model of disease transmission related to male circumcision in Iringa Region, Tanzania. We conducted in-depth interviews (IDIs) with 32 female partners of male circumcision clients and focus group discussions (FGDs) with married (n=3) and unmarried (n=3) women from November 2011 to February 2012. Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, and translated into English, and codes were developed based on emerging themes. While women understand that circumcised men are still at risk of HIV, risk is perceived to be low as long as both partners avoid abrasions during sexual intercourse and the man's penis is kept clean. Women said that HIV transmission only occurs when both partners have abrasions on their genitalia and mixing of blood occurs. Abrasions are thought to be the result of friction from fast or dry sex and are more likely to occur with uncircumcised men; thus, HIV can be prevented if a man is circumcised and couples have gentle, lubricated sex. In addition, women reported that the foreskin traps particles of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, which can easily be passed on to female partners. In contrast, circumcised men are viewed as being able to clean themselves of disease particles and, therefore, do not easily acquire diseases or transmit them to female partners. These findings align with the scientific understanding of increased HIV risk associated with abrasions or microflora in the foreskin; however, the ethnomedical model differs from scientific understanding in that disease transmission can in fact occur without either of these conditions. Programs can build upon these findings to better convey risks along with the benefits of male circumcision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1050
Number of pages6
JournalAIDS Care - Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2013


  • Tanzania
  • ethnomedical
  • male circumcision
  • qualitative
  • risk compensation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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