Saturday, July 21, 2007

Male circumcision can reduce HIV infection

SYDNEY: Scientific studies have confirmed a long-standing belief that male circumcision can reduce human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection rates in men by 60 percent, an international Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) conference will be told next week.

David Cooper, the co-chairman of an International AIDS Society (IAS) conference to be held in Sydney from July 22-25, said research on male circumcision represented a major development in HIV prevention.

“We always knew that if you went into any particular African country, the HIV rates among Muslim men were much lower,” Cooper said. “But we were never sure that the Muslim men had lower numbers of partners than non-Muslim men, so people always doubted it,” he added.

Cooper said the only way to ensure that the link between lower HIV rates and circumcision was not because of cultural factors was to carry out random trials, the results of which will be presented at the Sydney conference.

He said three trials were conducted in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, each involving more than 2,000 heterosexual men, half of whom were circumcised.

“The reduction in HIV infection was about 60 percent, so clearly it works,” said Cooper, who is also the director of Australia’s National Centre for HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research.

Cooper said the studies showed circumcision could be a powerful tool in helping curb HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa, where infection rates in some countries are up to 40 percent of the adult population.

He said, however, that any introduction of widespread male circumcision in developing countries needed to be carried out with an education campaign that reinforced a safe sex message. afp