According to recent studies, male circumcision can lead to a higher risk of contracting HIV. This opposes the previous studies which stated that circumcision actually reduced the risk of an HIV infection.
Circumcision refers to the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. In most common procedures, the foreskin is opened, adhesions are removed, and it is separated from the glans. After that, a circumcision device is used to cut off the foreskin. Typically, the procedure is an elective surgery performed on children for religious or cultural reasons. In other cases, it is done as a treatment for medical conditions.
Scientific experts announced in March 2007, that “voluntary medical male circumcision” can prove effective in reducing the risk of an HIV infection. The statement was backed by the World Health Organization that announced that “medical male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of acquiring HIV from a female sexual partner by about 60%.”
The data for endorsing the stance came from a study that compared the frequency of HIV infections in males who were circumcised and males who weren’t circumcised.
However, recent studies have shown that the researchers might have had it all wrong and getting circumcised actually increases the risk of getting diagnosed with an HIV infection. According to a study involving Eastern and South African men above the age of 40, the rate of HIV infections in men who were “medically circumcised” was higher than in individuals who weren’t circumcised.
There might be a major flaw in the message that “medical male circumcision reduces a man’s risk of acquiring HIV through penile-vaginal sex by 60%”, as most of the people are unable to comprehend its true meaning. According to data collected from Kenya, only a handful of individuals going under the surgery understood what ‘a 60% reduction would mean for them’.
A randomized study for answering the question was carried out in South Africa. The results showed that:
- There was an increase in the risks the men were willing to take after getting circumcised
- Circumcised men became more sexually active
The results were due to the assumption that circumcision increased the protection against sexual transmission of HIV.
However, the assumption differed from region to region. For example, according to a study conducted in Uganda, “men don’t always believe circumcision provides high protection and they don’t always engage in riskier sexual behavior after being circumcised”.
Another similar study revolving around “male-to-female HIV transmission” in Uganda found that circumcision did not affect the probability of women contracting the infection from their ‘male sexual partners’.
Furthermore, “the often-quoted 60% rate of risk reduction is, in statistical language, relative and not absolute. In absolute terms, the risk of a man getting HIV from a woman is reduced by less than two percentage points through medical male circumcision.”
Three randomized medical trials were conducted to investigate “female-to-male HIV acquisition” and they found that:
- 1% of the circumcised men and 2.5% of uncircumcised men contracted the infection
- “The absolute risk reduction was 1.4 percentage points”
- “The relative risk reduction was 56%”, which indicated the difference in the rate of HIV infections in the two groups.