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Heated debate about male circumcision


Circumcised men are much less likely to get HIV, but if the procedure is promoted as a way of preventing HIV men might think they are immune to the virus.

MEXICO CITY -- There has been heated debate at the International AIDS Conference about how male circumcision should be promoted, following research that shows circumcised men have far less chance of getting HIV.

The main fear is that, if promoted as a means of prevention HIV infection, men will believe that they are immune to HIV after circumcision.

"Will increased risk behaviour after male circumcision negate its protective effects," asks Alvaro Bermejo of the International AIDS Alliance.

Some cultures believe in a "whole man" and that circumcision makes men "incomplete", while others say it reduces sexual pleasure, acording to delegates.

But the evidence of lower HIV rates in countries where more than 80 percent of the men are circumcised is hard to ignore.

Three studies conducted in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda show that circumcised me are between 50 and 60 percent less likely to get HIV than uncircumcised men.

The latest research presented at the conference found that that circumcision also lowers the risk of men getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes genital warts, and trichomoniasis.

HPV causes cervical cancer while the symptoms of trichomoniasis for women are far worse than for men. Thus, "women with circumcised partners run a lower risk of other infections, not just HIV", according to the researchers.

Supreme Mfalapitsa fom EnGender Health South Africa called for health officials to consult traditional and community leaders before promoting male circumcision.

Aside from a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, it could be seen as a "blood sacrifice to the ancestors", said Mfalapitsa.

"In some cases, it is seen as enforcing male characteristics. The foreskin represents female characteristics that have to be removed," he added.

Men undergoing traditional circumcision were often told that they were superior to women and should have lots of sexual partners, added Mfalapitsa.

In Swaziland and Kenya, large public campaigns are being run to promote circumcision as a means of protecting against HIV. As a result, there are already long waiting lists for the procedure.

However, South Africa has yet to decide on whether it will promote men and boys getting circumcised.


Health-e is a news agency that produces news and in-depth analysis for the print and electronic media. Their particular focus is HIV/AIDS, public health and issues regarding health policy and practice in South Africa. They provide print features for newspapers and magazines and well as broadcast packages for national and community radio stations. They also accept commissions. 

Information in this article was accurate in August 7, 2008. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.