southern African nations should develop a policy of mass
male circumcision to fight the disease, the head of the
United Nations anti-AIDS agency said on Tuesday.
Several recent medical studies have reported that
circumcision cuts the risk of HIV infection among men by
50% to 60%, and the findings have been backed by UNAIDS.
countries should now prepare how to introduce
circumcision on a large scale," UNAIDS chief Peter Piot told
Reuters. "The science is clear."
Baby boys should
be targeted first, but then attention should switch to
adolescent boys and adult men, said Piot, who is in New
Delhi to meet Indian officials on how they plan to
tackle the world's largest HIV/AIDS caseload.
In 2005, UNAIDS
said that more research was needed into the possible
benefits of circumcision before it could be promoted as part
of national HIV programs. One U.S.-Ugandan study found
male circumcision reduces infections in female
partners by 30%.
Muslim and Jewish
men have to be circumcised according to religious
beliefs, and Piot said that UNAIDS understood advocating
mass circumcision was a religiously and culturally
sensitive issue for many people. "Changing that is
touching very much on the core of values," he
said. "That is going to make it more complicated
than any other medical issue that I can think of."
But he said given
the grim HIV situation in southern Africa, it was
important to promote the idea of widespread circumcision.
"We are faced
with an absolute crisis where you have 20% to 40% of
adults being HIV-positive.... You need to use every
scientifically proven method to bring down the new
Botswana, and Namibia are among the worst-hit countries in
the region, while Swaziland has an infection rate of around
50%, UNAIDS says.
Piot said that
even if large-scale circumcision is introduced, countries
should continue to promote condom use as well as abstinence.