Circumcising African men may cut their risk of catching AIDS in half, the National Institutes of Health said today as it stopped two clinical trials in Africa, when preliminary results suggested that circumcision worked so well that it would be unethical not to offer it to uncircumcised men in the trials.
AIDS experts immediately hailed the result, saying it gave the world a new way to fight the spread of AIDS, and the directors of the two largest funds for fighting the disease said they would now consider paying for circumcisions.
â€œThis is very exciting news,â€ said Daniel Halperin, an H.I.V. specialist at Harvardâ€™s Center for Population and Development, who has argued in scientific journals for years that circumcision slows the spread of AIDS in the parts of Africa where it is practiced.
In an interview from Zimbabwe, Mr. Halperin added: â€œI have no doubt that, as word of this gets around, millions of African men will want to get circumcised and that will save many lives.â€
But experts also cautioned that circumcision is no cure-all. It only lessens the chances that a man will catch the virus, it is expensive compared to condoms, abstinence or other methods, and the surgery has serious risks if performed by folk healers using dirty blades, as often happens in rural Africa.
The two trials were carried out among nearly 3,000 men in Kisumu, Kenya, and nearly 5,000 men in Rakai, Uganda. None were infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS; they were divided into circumcised and uncircumcised groups. They were given safe sex advice â€” although many presumably did not take it â€” and retested regularly.
The trials were stopped by the National Institutes of Healthâ€™s Data Safety and Monitoring Board this week after data showed that the Kenyan men had a 53 percent reduction in new H.I.V. cases and the Ugandan men a 48 percent reduction.
Uncircumcised men are thought to be more susceptible to AIDS because the underside of the foreskin is rich in Langerhansâ€™ cells, which attach easily to the virus. The foreskin may also suffer small tears during intercourse, making it more susceptible to infection.
Researchers have long noted that parts of Africa where circumcision is practiced â€” particularly in the Muslim countries of West Africa â€” had much lower AIDS rates. But it was unclear whether other factors, such as religion or polygamy, played important roles.END AKISMET -->
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