A 21-year-old man in South Africa recently received a rare penis transplant and is reportedly doing fine. A spokesperson for the University of Stellenbosch, where the transplant was performed, said the unnamed patient “has made a full recovery and has regained all function in the newly transplanted organ.”
When the patient was in his late teens, he was circumcised. Complications developed. in 2012, his penis was amputated as a result of the complications.
The transplant was performed last December in a nine-hour surgical procedure. The university has not released the name of the patient nor any details about the donated organ. According to a university spokesperson, “Finding a donor was one of the major challenges.”
Professor Andre van der Merwe, one of the transplant surgical team, has expressed surprise at the young man’s rapid recovery and predicts he will have full use of the transplanted organ in about two years.
Circumcision is an important rite of passage from boyhood to manhood in rural South Africa. Experts estimate as many as 250 penis amputations are performed each year in South Africa in response to botched circumcisions.
An NBC News piece reporting the story of the South African man also mentions another penis transplant performed in China in 2005. The surgical element of the procedure was said to be a success but the man asked his surgeons to remove the transplanted organ two weeks later. The new penis was causing psychological problems for the man and his wife.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) each issued a draft of new guidelines for circumcision in late 2014. Recommendations from both organizations are similar.
Both the CDC and the AAP recommend circumcision for male infants because the procedure has been found to enhance health throughout the male’s life. It reduces the risk of urinary tract infections during infancy and reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) later in life.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin says, “The scientific evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the risks.” When the foreskin of the penis is left intact (uncircumcised), germs collect and colonize beneath it. This microbial build-up can lead to infection and spread of STDs. The most common risks of circumcision include bleeding and infection. Mermin is director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
Studies done in sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate a reduced risk of HIV infection in circumcised men by as much as 60%. Herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV) infections, both of which are associated with penile cancer, are reduced by 30%, according to CDC data.
The proposed CDC guidelines for circumcision state HIV and STD prevention has only been documented for circumcised men having vaginal intercourse. There is no evidence at this time that circumcision reduces the risk of infection during oral or anal sex or reduces risk of HIV transmission to a female sex partner.