Australia: Calls to Rethink Position on Male Circumcision
November 5, 2003
On Monday, at the Fertility Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting in Perth, experts were told the nation needs to rethink its opposition to male circumcision amid growing evidence the practice offers significant health benefits for men and women. Professor Roger Short of Melbourne University said Australia has an "unduly negative" attitude toward male circumcision, which recent studies showed protects men against HIV and lowers the risk of cervical cancer in their female partners. "Evidence shows male circumcision reduces by two- to eight-fold a man's risk of becoming HIV-positive," Short said.
The reason for the findings is simple, Short said. "The main site by which HIV enters the penis is through the inner aspect of the foreskin, where there's no keratin covering which normally keeps the virus out and there's a very high concentration of cells with receptors for the virus that internalize it. If you take the foreskin away you remove most of the receptor sites for HIV so you drastically reduce risk."
Other studies, Short said, had shown that circumcised men were less likely to be infected with human papillomavirus, which, when transmitted to women, is responsible for 99 percent of cervical cancer cases.
Circumcision should be considered as a cheap and effective protective measure in places like Africa, where HIV is out of control and there is little access to medicine, he said. "I certainly wouldn't say every newborn baby boy ought to be circumcised," Short said. "But now with this data showing there is a major effect on female reproductive health even in developed countries irrespective of the HIV scene, I really think we've got to do a big rethink."
"Review of the literature in relation to risks and benefits shows there is no evidence of benefit outweighing harm for circumcision as a routine procedure," says a position paper from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
Australian Associated Press
11.03.03; Judy Skatssoon
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.