Circumcision Study Cut Short

Researchers have determined that circumcising a man already infected with HIV does not protect his female partner from the virus. Early results prompted the scientists to cut short a study for the safety of the female subjects.

Circumcision is known to protect men from acquiring HIV. But the research, from the Lancet, showed no benefit in those who already had the virus and was stopped early because of the continued risk to women. Experts say HIV-positive men should still be offered circumcision, but also warned to use condoms. The US researchers, from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, say not offering the procedure to men with HIV would stigmatise them. Other experts say it could become a “sign” of whether a man was HIV positive or not.

Previous research had suggested women could be protected from HIV if their partner was circumcised. In this study, 922 uncircumcised, HIV-infected, asymptomatic men aged 15-49 years with HIV were enrolled in the Rakai district of Uganda. Men were then selected to have immediate circumcision (474 men) or to be given circumcision after two years (448 men). Almost 170 uninfected female partners of the men were also enrolled, and followed up at six, 12, and 24 months. However, the trial was ended early because of what the researchers called the “futility” of carrying on, and the second group were not circumcised.

The UK’s Terrence Higgins Trust says that while the circumcision of young boys is an increasingly common prevention tool in developing countries (where condoms are scarce), it should not be a “stand-alone strategy.”