BMJ Open 3:e002802 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002802
    • Research

‘The body we leave behind’: a qualitative study of obstacles and opportunities for increasing uptake of male circumcision among Tanzanian Christians

  1. David J Downs5
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza, Tanzania
  3. 3P.A.G. Bible College, Mwanza, Tanzania
  4. 4Pentecostal Assemblies of God Tanzania, Mwanza, Tanzania
  5. 5School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer A Downs; jna2002{at}
  • Received 27 February 2013
  • Revised 12 April 2013
  • Accepted 16 April 2013
  • Published 16 May 2013


Objectives Male circumcision (MC) reduces HIV infection by approximately 60% among heterosexual men and is recommended by the WHO for HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. In northwest Tanzania, over 60% of Muslims but less than 25% of Christian men are circumcised. We hypothesised that the decision to circumcise may be heavily influenced by religious identity and that specific religious beliefs may offer both obstacles and opportunities to increasing MC uptake, and conducted focus group discussions to explore reasons for low rates of MC among Christian church attenders in the region.

Design Qualitative study using focus group discussions and interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Setting Discussions took place at churches in both rural and urban areas of the Mwanza region of northwest Tanzania.

Participants We included 67 adult Christian churchgoers of both genders in a total of 10 single-gender focus groups.

Results Christians frequently reported perceiving MC as a Muslim practice, as a practice for the sexually promiscuous, or as unnecessary since they are taught to focus on ‘circumcision of the heart’. Only one person had ever heard MC discussed at church, but nearly all Christian parishioners were eager for their churches to address MC and felt that MC could be consistent with their faith.

Conclusions Christian religious beliefs among Tanzanian churchgoers provide both obstacles and opportunities for increasing uptake of MC. Since half of adults in sub-Saharan Africa identify themselves as Christians, addressing these issues is critical for MC efforts in this region.

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