Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Male circumcision key to slowing AIDS epidemic

Published: Monday, July 23, 2007 | 11:06 PM ET
Canadian Press: MERAIAH FOLEY

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - An American health official urged international agencies Tuesday to step up their promotion of circumcision to slow the spread of HIV, saying that men without the procedure face greater risk of contracting the virus from infected female partners.

The World Health Organization says male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male transmission of the disease by around 60 per cent. But only 30 per cent of men worldwide have had the procedure, mostly in countries where it is common for religious or health reasons.

Robert Bailey, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois, said uncircumcised men are 2-½ times more likely to contract the virus from female partners, based on testing in parts of Africa hardest-hit by the epidemic.

Bailey told a major international AIDS conference in Sydney, Australia, that world health agencies should be aggressive in implementing the procedure in light of mounting evidence of its effectiveness in preventing new HIV infections.

"Circumcision could drive the epidemic to a declining state toward extinction. ... We must make safe, affordable, voluntary circumcision available now," he said.

"But no one stands to profit from male circumcision - no one but the 4,000 in Africa who will be infected tomorrow," said Bailey, who has conducted circumcision-related studies in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and the United States.

The World Health Organization issued a statement in March urging heterosexual men to undergo the procedure because of compelling evidence that it reduces their risk of getting the disease.

However, it cautioned that male circumcision is not a complete protection against HIV, and said men should still use condoms and take other precautions such as abstinence, delaying the start of sexual activity and reducing the number of sexual partners.