Male circumcision involves removing the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis. The procedure can be carried out at any stage: during infancy, childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Many societies have been practicing male circumcision for hundreds of years. Circumcision is often seen as a mark of belonging to a particular tribal or religious group.
Since the 1980s, scientists have suspected that male circumcision might reduce rates of HIV transmission during sex. They observed that circumcised men are less likely to have HIV than uncircumcised men, and HIV is less common among populations that traditionally practice male circumcision than in communities where the procedure is rare. However, for a long time it was unclear to what extent this was an effect of circumcision itself and whether other factors might also play a role.
Three randomized controlled trials (the results of which were published between 2005-07) have shown that male circumcision provided by well trained health professionals in properly equipped settings is safe. WHO/UNAIDS recommendations emphasize that male circumcision should be considered an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention in countries and regions with heterosexual epidemics, high HIV and low male circumcision prevalence. Male circumcision provides only partial protection, and therefore should be only one element of a comprehensive HIV prevention package.