GENEVA, Switzerland - 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.
"Male circumcision does not provide complete protection," said UNAIDS' Catherine Hankins, cautioning that a false sense of security could lead to high-risk behavior and undermine that partial protection.
Men also should be warned, the agencies said, 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.
While it is clear that male circumcision protects the man, more study is needed to determine whether it will reduce the transmission of HIV to women or reduce HIV infection in homosexual intercourse.
Women should know that there is no evidence that they will be protected from HIV if they have sex with a circumcised man, said Susan Timberlake of UNAIDS.
The recommendations were based on a conference in which experts discussed three clinical trials, in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. WHO experts said the trials convinced them after 20 years of observations that circumcision reduced men's susceptibility to HIV infection partly because the cells in the foreskin of the penis were especially vulnerable to the virus.
Studies suggest male circumcision could prevent 5.7 million new cases of HIV infection and three million deaths over 20 years in sub-Saharan Africa.