Circumcised Men Less Likely To Contract HIV, USAID Study Says
Circumcised men are less likely to contract HIV during unprotected sex than uncircumcised men, according to a soon-to-be-released USAID study, the Washington Times reports. The report, which will be published on the USAID Web site, shows a "strong association" between circumcision and HIV protection, Dr. Anne Peterson, USAID assistant administrator for global health, said. The skin on the inside of a male's foreskin is "mucosal" -- much like the skin inside the mouth -- and contains many Langerhans' cells, which are target cells for HIV, according to the Times. "HIV looks for target cells, like Langerhans'; it's a lock and key," Edward Green, a Harvard University senior researcher who has studied circumcision and HIV in Africa for 10 years, said. Although the foreskin is vulnerable to HIV infection, Green said that "[t]he rest of the skin on the penis is armorlike." Green said that if all African men were circumcised, some regions' HIV prevalence rates could fall from 20% to below 5%, according to the Times. Circumcision also reduces the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases, is more hygienic and makes condom use easier, Green added, according to the Times. "This is something tribal healers, the herbalists, faith healers and witch doctors have known for years," he said. Peterson said that the information in the USAID report "looks profound and wonderful" but more information about HIV and circumcision will be needed from clinical trials in Kenya and Uganda, which are ongoing and being sponsored by NIH, Johns Hopkins University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the Times. Peterson added that female circumcision has no protective benefit against HIV and may even increase risk. "We are adamantly opposed to female circumcision," she said. Although male circumcision can have some protective effect, the practice does not make one invulnerable from HIV. "People who are circumcised still get HIV," Peterson said, adding "It is still better to abstain, be faithful in marriage" or use condoms (Carter, Washington Times, 4/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.