Is this true: “Circumcision prevents HIV/AIDS”?


David Ferguson writes on Raw Story that Circumcision reduces HIV risk by changing penis ‘biome’, says study. 

Before I even read this story I was not convinced, I would be interested if anyone has any further information. Another article I found online, written by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. – More Circumcision Myths You May Believe: Hygiene and STDs – says:

Three studies in Africa several years ago that claimed that circumcision prevented AIDS and that circumcision was as effective as a 60% effective vaccine (Auvert 2005, 2006). These studies had many flaws, including that they were stopped before all the results came in.  There have also been several studies that show that circumcision does not prevent HIV (Connolly 2008). There are many issues at play in the spread of STDs which make it very hard to generalize results from one population to another.

In Africa, where the recent studies have been done, most HIV transmission is through male-female sex, but in the USA, it is mainly transmitted through blood exposure (like needle sharing) and male-male sex.  Male circumcision does not protect women from acquiring HIV, nor does it protect men who have sex with men (Wawer 2009, Jameson 2009).

What’s worse, because of the publicity surrounding the African studies, men in Africa are now starting to believe that if they are circumcised, they do not need to wear condoms, which will increase the spread of HIV (Westercamp 2010).  Even in the study with the most favorable effects of circumcision, the protective effect was only 60% – men would still have to wear condoms to protect themselves and their partners from HIV.

In the USA, during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, about 85% of adult men were circumcised (much higher rates of circumcision than in Africa), and yet HIV still spread.

It is important to understand, too, that the men in the African studies were adults and they volunteered for circumcision. Babies undergoing circumcision were not given the choice to decide for themselves.

Well, which do you believe? I think the best method of preventing HIV transmission is education. Only by educating everybody about how to prevent HIV transmission, can we start to stop the tide of transmissions.

3 comments

  1. Yes, it’s definitely true that circumcision substantially reduces heterosexual men’s risk of HIV – in countries where HIV prevalence is very high.

    See these links for clear information on the topic:
    http://www.aidsmap.com/Male-circumcision/page/1323486/
    http://www.aidsmap.com/Randomised-controlled-trials-of-circumcision-as-a-preventive-measure/page/1323489/

    There are a lot of uninformed people, some cranks, and plenty who have axes to grind, spreading misinformation on this topic.

    No one serious is saying that circumcision eliminates the risk of transmission, just that it reduces it. The article you posted suggested that it was a problem that the randomised controlled trials were stopped early – this is standard practice when, as in this case, the results are so strong and convincing.

    When looking at the research on this topic, it’s important to distinguish between randomised controlled trials (the most reliable) and observational studies (subject to bias). And please note that the article you quoted is from a psychology PhD, not a medical PhD.

    Roger Pebody
    NAM

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