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June 17, 2008

Culture and Religion vs. HIV Transmission

Religious beliefs and culturally specific behaviors continue to have both positive and negative impacts on the spread of HIV around the world, according to the United Nations. Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency (, 6/13) reports that a 248-page study by the U.N. Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa (CHGA) found that the practice of male circumcision, for example, has decreased HIV transmission risk in men, while male promiscuity in some societies continues to put married women at a high risk for HIV infection.

The impact of polygamy, however, isn’t fully known, as some countries that have high rates of polygamous relationships have relatively low HIV infection rates. Still, the study notes that “polygamous behavior has been considered one of the major factors promoting the spread of HIV in Africa, where higher rates of HIV infection often are found in areas with high rates of polygamy,” according to the study.

The article also notes that religion has generally been viewed as playing a positive role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as many faith-based organizations and leaders have taken to the forefront of tackling the epidemic.

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