BACKGROUND: A landmark randomised trial of male circumcision (MC) in Orange Farm, South Africa recently showed a large and significant reduction in risk of HIV infection, reporting MC effectiveness of 61% (95% CI: 34%-77%). Additionally, two further randomised trials of MC in Kisumu, Kenya and Rakai, Uganda were recently stopped early to report 53% and 48% effectiveness, respectively. Since MC may protect against both HIV and certain sexually transmitted infections (STI), which are themselves cofactors of HIV infection, an important question is the extent to which this estimated effectiveness against HIV is mediated by the protective effect of circumcision against STI. The answer lies in the trial data if the appropriate statistical analyses can be identified to estimate the separate efficacies against HIV and STI, which combine to determine overall effectiveness. OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: Focusing on the MC trial in Kisumu, we used a stochastic prevention trial simulator (1) to determine whether statistical analyses can validly estimate efficacy, (2) to determine whether MC efficacy against STI alone can produce large effectiveness against HIV and (3) to estimate the fraction of all HIV infections prevented that are attributable to efficacy against STI when both efficacies combine. RESULTS: Valid estimation of separate efficacies against HIV and STI as well as MC effectiveness is feasible with available STI and HIV trial data, under Kisumu trial conditions. Under our parameter assumptions, high overall effectiveness of MC against HIV was observed only with a high MC efficacy against HIV and was not possible on the basis of MC efficacy against STI alone. The fraction of all HIV infections prevented which were attributable to MC efficacy against STI was small, except when efficacy of MC specifically against HIV was very low. In the three MC trials which reported between 48% and 61% effectiveness (combining STI and HIV efficacies), the fraction of HIV infections prevented in circumcised males which were attributable to STI was unlikely to be more than 10% to 20%. CONCLUSION: Estimation of efficacy, attributable fraction and effectiveness leads to improved understanding of trial results, gives trial results greater external validity and is essential to determine the broader public health impact of circumcision to men and women.
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