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Health Res Policy Syst. 2013 Nov 13;11:44. doi: 10.1186/1478-4505-11-44.

Researching male circumcision for HIV prevention in Papua New Guinea: a process that incorporates science, faith and culture.

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School of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Cairns Campus, PO Box 6811, Cairns 4870, QLD, Australia.



Undertaking HIV research in the culturally diverse Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) requires careful consideration of social, cultural and religious beliefs and practices. Here, we share a detailed description of culturally informed research processes and lessons learned from the first ever study undertaken on male circumcision for HIV prevention at a faith-based university in PNG.


Male and female staff and students at Pacific Adventist University were invited to complete an anonymous self-administered questionnaire, and/or participate in a semi-structured interview or focus group discussion. Male participants were invited for clinical examination. Results were collated and disseminated to the university community in gender segregated sessions. The study deliberately partnered with student leaders and centralised social, cultural, and religious paradigms. Student leaders were interviewed about their experience of partnering in sensitive health research.


The student leaders reported that pre-existing relationships, cultural ties, gendered sensitivity and regular communication reinforced trust between researchers, student leaders and participants, and helped the success of the study. The amount of time, complex logistics and social and cultural relationships between single and married staff and students were highlighted as challenges.


Partnering with regional student leaders to plan and implement the study gave a legitimate and immediate mechanism for involving PNG staff and students in this sensitive health research. Gendered research processes utilised established social and cultural structures and ensured the safety of participants; all of these factors contributed to the acceptability of the study. Capacity was strengthened in PNG and Australian researchers to undertake sensitive HIV research in PNG. The study demonstrated that it is possible to conduct sensitive sexual health research at a faith-based university in PNG.

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