Educating religious leaders about certain methods to prevent HIV could help stem the sexually transmitted infection from spreading further in Africa, according to the findings from a new study. Church leaders in Tanzania who participated in a special seminar about the health benefits of male circumcision saw a much higher rate of circumcising in their villages compared to those who did not attend the seminars.

Researchers targeted villages in Tanzania because nearly 30 percent of gay men there were HIV-positive. Male circumcision has long been proven as an effective way to combat HIV.

The study, published Tuesday in the Lancet health journal, was conducted between June 15, 2014 and Dec. 10, 2015. It found that nearly 53 percent of the men in villages where church leaders were educated about the medical procedure were circumcised. Conversely, about 30 percent of the men in the villages where religious leaders did not take part in the seminar were uncircumcised. The study involved 16 villages in all.

While HIV is by far not restricted to those engaging in homosexual activity, gay sex is against the law in Tanzania. Any HIV prevention or outreach efforts have been translated as "promoting sexuality," according to the Washington Post.

Drugs have also proven effective in trying to prevent and treat HIV, but many people in Tanzania either don't have ready access to the drugs, cannot afford them or choose to not take them.

“In the short term, there are people who won’t go to [health] service centers, and if they aren’t on antiretrovirals, what happens? It’s a major concern,” Warren Naamara, director of the U.N. program on HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, told the Washington Post.

The villages in Tanzania that were part of the study have a total population of more than 145,000 people. The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the Mulago Foundation.