A push by the king of South Africa's Zulus to revive the practice of circumcision among his people has had impressive success in fighting the spread of HIV, health officials said Friday.
"We have circumcised 17,690 men and we are pleased to report that 99.5 percent tested negative for HIV," KwaZulu-Natal provincial health department head Sibongile Zungu told a workshop on the programme, the Sapa news agency reported.
Health officials in the northeastern province launched the large-scale circumcision programme this year after King Goodwill Zwelithini called for a revival of circumcision among young Zulu men, saying it would help fight the spread of AIDS.
A number of studies have shown that circumcising men can halve their chances of contracting HIV.
An estimated 5.7 million of South Africa's 48 million people are HIV positive.
KwaZulu Natal, the homeland of the Zulu nation, has been the country's worst affected province. A 2008 study found that 38.7 percent of all pregnant women tested for HIV were infected, 9.4 points higher than the national average.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said other provinces should follow in the footsteps of KwaZulu-Natal's circumcision programme.
"No other province has done what you have done. I am very impressed. I am saying to other provinces please adopt this method," he said.
Zulus practised ritual circumcision until the start of the 19th century, when the legendary King Shaka put a stop to it because it deprived him of young warriors for months at a time.