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29.03.2007 Health

UN endorses male circumcision to prevent HIV

By gna
The UN on Wednesday endorsed male circumcision as a way of preventing HIV infections in heterosexual men and said it should be made more easily available in African countries.

This was made known in a joint statement by two UN agencies, WHO and UNAIDS, which was made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), in New York.

They backed recent research, which revealed that removing the foreskin of the penis could more than halve men's vulnerability to the virus causing AIDS from having sex with HIV-infected women.

They said countries with high rates of heterosexual HIV should urgently improve access to male circumcision, giving priority to sexually active young men, while continuing to promote condom use and encourage regular testing.

``These recommendations represent a significant step forward in HIV prevention, ``Kevin de Cock, the WHO's director for HIV/AIDS programmes said.

``Scaling up male circumcision in such countries will result in immediate benefit to individuals."

"However, it will be a number of years before we can expect to see an impact on the epidemic,'' he said.

Of the 40 million people worldwide infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), 25 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is spread mostly through heterosexual sex.

The WHO and UNAIDS said increasing male circumcisions could prevent five to seven million sub-Saharan African men from contracting HIV over the next two decades, and save three million lives as research had shown that the virus was less prevalent in areas where circumcision was common.

The practice occurs for religious reasons among Jews and Muslims and Christians and in others for hygiene purposes, generally among infant boys.

Experts said that circumcised men were 50 to 60 per cent less likely to catch HIV and that cells on the inside of the foreskin, the part of the penis cut off in circumcision, were particularly susceptible to the infection.

Although there is no evidence that women were any more protected from HIV when they have sex with circumcised men, WHO and UNAIDS officials said, research in that area was ongoing.

``If male circumcision results in an overall decrease in HIV infections then women will eventually benefit,'' they said.

The agencies' endorsement was based on the findings of an experts' meeting between March 6 and 8 in Montreux, Switzerland, which was attended by a wide range of stakeholders, including government officials, civil societies and researchers.