The World Health Organization recommended yesterday that circumcision immediately become part of the frontline strategy to combat AIDS - a move that the group said could save millions of lives.
The benefit would be greatest in countries with widespread epidemics and low rates of circumcision, such as southern and eastern Africa, the WHO said.
"The recommendations represent a significant step forward in HIV prevention," said Dr. M. Kevin De Cock, director of the WHO's HIV/AIDS Department. High-risk countries "now have an additional intervention, which can reduce the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men."
Circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa could prevent an estimated 5.7 million HIV infections and 3 million deaths over 20 years, the WHO said. That region saw about 270,000 new infections in 2006, according to the WHO and UNAIDS.
"If you combine this with other modalities - condom usage, responsible behavior, knowing the HIV status of your partner - this is a big addition to that armamentarium," said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
U.S. global AIDS coordinator Dr. Mark Dybul, who oversees the largest worldwide fund to fight AIDS, said the United States would "support safe male circumcision services as a part of an expanded approach to reduce HIV infections."
WHO officials stressed that male circumcision should not give men a false sense of security. Circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV, and people should continue other preventive practices, such as using condoms and reducing the number of sexual partners, experts said.