In general, East, Central and Southern Africa appear to be worse affected by HIV-1 infection than West Africa. So far there is little evidence to suggest that differences in either sexual behaviour or numbers of sexual partners could account for this disparity. Two risk factors in men for acquiring HIV-1, that tend to vary along this geographical divide, are lack of circumcision and genital ulcer disease (GUD) which are much less common in West Africa. Although uncircumcised men with GUD are an important high frequency HIV-1 transmitter core group, few interventions have targeted such individuals. Given the recent expansion in AIDS-related technologies, is it possible that methods effective in limiting GUD in the preantibiotic era have been overlooked? During the first and second world wars, chancroid, the commonest cause of GUD in Africa today, was controlled successfully with various prophylactics including soap and water. Many parts of Africa are undergoing social upheaval against a background of violence, and in this environment soap and water prophylaxis would now seem to merit re-evaluation as an intervention for preventing both GUD and HIV-1 in uncircumcised men. By facilitating healing of traumatic, inflammatory and infected penile lesions, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis with soap and water could be a cheap and effective method for decreasing the risks of acquiring GUD and HIV in this vulnerable group of uncircumcised men.