Medically performed circumcision significantly reduces a man’s risk of acquiring HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—through heterosexual intercourse, according to 2 studies.
Researchers had noticed that, in certain African and Asian countries, HIV tends to be less prevalent in areas where male circumcision is common. Two international groups of researchers funded by NIH conducted trials—one in Kenya and the other in Uganda—to investigate the link. They randomly assigned HIV-negative heterosexual men to either have a circumcision performed by medical professionals in a clinic or to wait 2 years before circumcision. All the participants were also counseled in HIV prevention.
Both trials reached their enrollment targets by September 2005. They were originally designed to continue until mid-2007. However, a review board assessing interim data found medically performed circumcision to be safe and effective in reducing HIV acquisition in both studies. The study in Kenya, of 2,784 men, showed a 53% reduction of HIV acquisition in circumcised men, while the one in Uganda, of 4,996 men, showed that HIV acquisition was reduced by 48% in circumcised men.
In light of these results, the board recommended that the 2 studies be halted early. All men in the comparison groups will now be offered circumcision.
These studies found that an uncircumcised man is more likely than one who is circumcised to become infected with HIV. Still, it’s important to realize that adult male circumcision is not a replacement for proven prevention strategies such as limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms during intercourse.