Study: Circumcision of HIV-Positive Men Doesn't Protect Women

By Eliza Strickland | July 20, 2009 2:36 pm

AIDS ribbonCircumcising men who are infected with HIV does not protect their female partners from the deadly virus, researchers have found. The Uganda-based study was stopped early due to “futility,” the researchers wrote in a study published in The Lancet, when it became clear that the women were not benefiting. The outcome was disappointing because circumcision has been shown to drastically reduce infection rates in men. But the researchers said that wide-scale circumcision is so effective in protecting men that [it] will still likely benefit women indirectly by reducing circulation of the virus in general [Reuters].

In 2007, the World Health Organization concluded that circumcising males reduced female-to-male transmission of the HIV virus by about 60 percent. The foreskin of the penis, which is removed during circumcision, is rich in cells that are particularly easy for the virus to infect. The theory is that removing this source of vulnerable cells makes infection more difficult [Reuters].

While the new research showed that the circumcised men in the study did not protect their female partners from contracting the virus, experts say HIV-positive men should still be offered circumcision, but also warned to use condoms. The US researchers … say not offering the procedure to men with HIV would stigmatise them. Other experts say it could become a “sign” of whether a man was HIV positive or not [BBC News].

Circumcision has become an important tactic in the fight against HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, because the quick procedure can have such drastic benefits for men. Some other African nations are championing the procedure and bringing it to thousands. But in South Africa, the powerhouse country at the heart of the epidemic, the government has been notably silent, despite the withering international criticism the country has endured for its previous foot-dragging in fighting and treating AIDS [The New York Times]. The South African government doesn’t offer circumcision at its public hospitals, as the neighboring Botswana does, nor does it educate the public about the benefits of the procedure.

Related Content:
80beats: Bush’s AIDS Program Saved African Lives, Didn’t Cut Infection Rate
80beats: Male Circumcision Cuts Risk of HIV, Herpes, and HPV Transmission
DISCOVER: Male Circumcision: A New Defense Against HIV
DISCOVER: Finally! A Nearly Foolproof Circumcision

Image: iStockphoto

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