Israeli medical start-up Circ MedTech was forced to close its doors after ten years in business, owing to the disastrous rollout of a medical device that the firm believed could have significantly improved HIV prevention in Africa. The company emerged following a 2007 plan by the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote male circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV, based on medical research indicating a strong correlation between circumcision and a decreased risk of becoming infected with HIV.
Circ MedTech developed a device it called PrePex, which could be used to carry out circumcisions without requiring anesthesia or surgery, making it highly desirable for people in poor communities in Africa who may not be able to afford the procedure or who live far from medical facilities. PrePex got approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in 2012 and, following approval from the WHO in 2013, Rwanda became the first buyer. In quick succession, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe also bought the device.
Business seemed to be going well and Circ MedTech was in talks with the nonprofit Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to sign a long-term agreement that would sell PrePex widely at a cost of US$12 per unit. Yet, near the end of 2014, cases of tetanus began popping up in Rwanda and Uganda after men had used PrePex, with two dying from the infection. To Circ MedTech’s surprise, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria pulled out of the negotiation, which was the beginning of the end for the company.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that has a high mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa, as widespread vaccinations aren’t as readily available as they are in Israel or Europe. After more cases were reported in conjunction with PrePex use, the WHO announced in 2016 that the device did lead to a higher chance of contracting tetanus and PrePex should only be used after the patient had been fully vaccinated against tetanus. The declaration was an effective death knell for the product, given that access to the vaccine is not readily available, particularly in remote villages.
Consequently, Circ MedTech ceased production of PrePex in 2019 and liquidated itself, as PrePex was its only product.