A landmark study with major implications for the global AIDS epidemic, published this week by French and South African researchers, seems to confirm what scientists have long suspected: that circumcision cuts the risk of HIV infection dramatically, by as much as 60 percent. If similar studies now underway in Kenya and Uganda corroborate the results, circumcision could become a powerful weapon—with condom use and other measures—in the fight against AIDS. The South African study, reported in Public Library of Science Medicine, found it had a protective effect for some of the 3,280 young men involved.
Circumcision is thought to help protect against HIV because cells under the foreskin are vulnerable to the virus.
UK experts warned some circumcised men in the study still became infected and condoms offered the best protection. HIV infection rates are lower among groups in Africa who practise circumcision, but it was not known if this was due to cultural differences.
When the foreskin is removed, the skin on the head of the penis becomes less sensitive and so less likely to bleed, thereby reducing the risk of infection.
Studies in Uganda and in Kenya are also investigating the link. A.M.