This article by Benjamin Ryan first appeared in POZ magazine here.
The evidence appeared overwhelming. Dozens of smaller studies conducted from the late 1980s onward suggested that circumcised men in sub-Saharan Africa were at reduced risk of acquiring HIV.
Some of the research had conflicting results, but meta-analyses supported the hypothesis that removing the male foreskin protected against HIV transmission. Eventually, there was enough data to justify three randomized controlled trials—considered the gold standard of scientific research—of more than 10,000 HIV-negative uncircumcised men in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.
In each of the three trials, half the men were randomly selected for circumcision while the others served as a control. Each trial was halted early on ethical grounds because it was so clear that circumcised men were acquiring HIV at significantly reduced rates when compared with the control group.
The results of the studies, one of which was published in 2005 and the other two in 2007, fell neatly in line with one another. Circumcision, the researchers concluded, reduces heterosexual men’s risk of HIV by about 60 percent.
“We very rarely have a circumstance where we have three trials that show you almost identical effects,” says Edward Mills, PhD, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, who wrote a 2008 meta-analysis of the studies. “And therefore, the inferences that we can draw from these three trials are much stronger than in virtually any other circumstance.”
Jason Reed, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC), says of the studies’ findings: “It’s a remarkable level of consistency that I think other scientific interventions only wish that they had.”
For the full story go here.