Two major studies have found that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection by half, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Dozens of studies conducted since the 1980s found similar results but lacked the scientific rigor of a randomized clinical trial.
"This is a landmark day in the history of fighting this epidemic", said medical anthropologist Robert Bailey, who led one of the the two studies. Bailey first became interested in circumcision for AIDS prevention in 1985, when colleagues in the field began noticing that HIV rates were much higher in regions of Africa populated by non-circumcising communities.
Doctors theorize that circumcision might protect against HIV infection because the foreskin is rich in a type of white blood cell that is a favorite target of the AIDS virus. In addition, some studies suggest that circumcised males are less likely to have other sexually transmitted diseases, which cause sores that serve as gateways for HIV to enter the bloodstream.
Researchers stress that circumcision should not be considered a replacement for other measures such as the use of condoms. Male circumcision requires trained personnel, sterile instruments etc. In the developing world, these resources are often in short supply, and, in their absence, the procedure can lead to infections and even death.
Another study will attempt to determine whether women also benefit from the reduced HIV infection risk in a population of circumcised men.