- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GENEVA — Heterosexual men should be circumcised because of compelling evidence it reduces their chances of contracting HIV by up to 60 percent, U.N. health agencies said yesterday.

But men should still use condoms and other protection against the virus, said the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, the U.N. agency that coordinates the global fight against the AIDS virus.

“We must be clear,” said Dr. Catherine Hankins of UNAIDS. “Male circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV.”

Besides condoms, men and women should use protections such as abstinence, delaying the start of sexual activity and reducing the number of sexual partners, she said.

Otherwise, they could develop a false sense of security and engage in high-risk behavior that could undermine the partial protection provided by male circumcision, the agencies said.

Men also should be warned that they are at a higher risk of being infected with HIV if they resume sex before their circumcision wound has healed, which can take six weeks. Likewise, an HIV-positive man can more easily pass the disease to his partner if the wound has not healed.

The recommendations were based on a conference in which specialists discussed three trials — in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa — that produced strong evidence of the risk reduction resulting from heterosexual male circumcision.

WHO specialists said the trials convinced them after 20 years of observations that circumcision reduces men’s susceptibility to HIV infection.

The findings tied in with lower HIV rates in North and West African countries where circumcision has been widely practiced for religious or cultural reasons.

Studies suggest male circumcision could prevent 5.7 million new cases of HIV infection and 3 million deaths over 20 years in sub-Saharan Africa, the agencies said.

An estimated 665 million men, or 30 percent of men in the world, are circumcised, but the rate varies considerably from country to country, they said.

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