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3 Mar, 2009 19:48

Is circumcision the answer to fighting AIDS?

Is circumcision the answer to fighting AIDS?

A new website helping to debunk myths about the link between HIV and circumcision has been launched by the World Health Organization (WHO).

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original cover image of this article has been replaced due to a copyright infringement claim

WHO has recommended male circumcision in developing countries after studies in Africa showed that the operation can lower the risk for men of getting the virus by 60 percent.

However, since many developing countries started using this method to reduce the spread of infection, much misinformation has appeared. More problems arose as traditional healers in poor countries began offering cheap circumcisions without sterile instruments, reports the New York Times.

Last week WHO, together with the UN AIDS program, the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, Family Health International and several schools of public health created a web site malecircumcision.org. Its aim is to fight popular myths about circumcision, for instance the one that it gives a 100 % reduction in female-to-male transmission of HIV, and that men can stop using condoms.

The site not only gathers news articles, scientific documents and policy documents, it also has a handbook demonstrating surgical techniques. According to Dr Kim Eva Dickson, a WHO medical officer who oversaw the site’s creation, it could help small missionary hospitals in rural areas, demonstrating new methods they could investigate and advising that men need not just surgery but pain management, sex advice and condoms.

The site has already been visited by internet users from the U.S., Switzerland and Britain, Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Namibia and India.

However some human rights groups have not welcomed the idea. In response to the launch of the website, the International Coalition for Genital Integrity (ICGI) issued a warning to the world health community that male circumcision is the wrong approach to curb the HIV epidemic in Africa and elsewhere.

The organisation’s press review published on prweb.com says: “The push for mass circumcision in Africa will have detrimental consequences, including placing women at greater risk of HIV transmission, creating a false sense of security in circumcised males, and leading to increased risk-compensation behaviors such as no longer using condoms.”

“Circumcision campaigns will result in huge numbers of circumcision complications. This will severely strain the already burdened healthcare infrastructure,” Dr. John Travis, MD, MPH, and ICGI advisor is quoted as saying. “These campaigns will cause the re-direction of money that could be better spent on more effective HIV prevention strategies such as condom distribution and education campaigns.”

He added: “Male circumcision is not the answer to the HIV crisis. We find it especially troubling that infant circumcision is also being promoted. This is a severe human rights violation. To surgically remove a part of an infant’s body for a possible benefit, if any, 15–20 years from now when he becomes sexually active, is simply wrong—especially when there are more effective methods available.”