Is it true that circumcision prevents HIV?
Few surgical interventions have as much social significance as circumcision. The removal of the foreskin, that thin skin that covers the glans, has had various cultural and religious implications throughout history.
But it was at the beginning of the 21st century that it took on an unexpected nuance: it was seen as a tool to stop the most devastating epidemic that humanity had experienced in recent history: HIV.
Is it a prevention method?
In 2007, circumcision jumped to the center of the HIV debate, when scientific studies showed that circumcised men are less likely to acquire the virus, compared to their uncircumcised peers.
Based on these data, some recommendations were issued so that in the countries of Africa, the continent most affected by HIV and AIDS, massive campaigns be launched to promote and, in effect, carry out circumcision in as many people as possible men.
According to the researchers, this would also reduce the possibility of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), since removing the foreskin minimizes the risk that parasites, bacteria, fungi or viruses accumulate between that skin and the glans which facilitated their survival and replication.
Although circumcision could never replace condom safety, it did show a significant level of protection against HIV, with a 60% lower risk of transmission.
In this regard, two positions clashed within the social and medical organizations that worked against HIV. One sector warned about the false sense of security that promoting circumcision could create, since 60% is not the highest figure to which one can aspire when it comes to avoiding HIV.
For its part, the other group argued that 60% is a more than acceptable figure in a context in which the epidemic had hit harder than in any other region of the world, so practicing it on a massive level could have some impact in curbing the advancement of HIV.
Another objection against this practice was that circumcision protects men from HIV, but does not bring any benefit to women who have sex with these men. The counterpart alluded to the fact that the transmission of the virus in Africa occurs mainly through heterosexual relationships, so preventing men from contracting the virus has a positive impact, since they will not transmit it to their female partners.
After extensive analysis, a point of agreement was reached in which circumcision was recommended essentially in countries heavily affected by HIV, and was always considered within a broader package of prevention measures, such as the dissemination and access to condoms, the availability of screening tests and access to treatment for those who need it.
So is it necessary or not?
It is true that circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring STIs, including HIV, but this does not mean that it is the only way, nor the most effective, to protect yourself. Remember that the condom is 98% effective if you use it correctly, plus it also prevents unplanned pregnancies.
This also does not mean that you should not circumcise yourself (or circumcise your children). Given the deep religious or social meaning that circumcision has for some groups, it has remained part of rituals that are strongly rooted, so there is no point in questioning it.
The important thing is that, regardless of the motivation you have to do it, the reasons make sense to you or your family. The moderate degree of protection it offers against HIV is not enough to be the main reason for getting circumcised, nor is it a substitute for protected sex through condom use.
To have access to this latex tool that has been shown to be very effective against HIV, approach the institutions that make it available to you, such as the offices of AHF Latin America and the Caribbean, where we offer you free condoms and HIV tests without cost. Locate our nearest center in your country or write to us by Whatsapp.