South African doctors pull off the world's first successful penis transplant on a 21-year-old man whose organ was amputated three years ago after a botched circumcision.

The nine-hour operation, which took place on Dec 11, 2014, was part of a pilot study by Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch to help 250 or so young South African men who had lost their penises after their coming-of-age circumcision ritual went wrong.

Doctors say the patient, who was not named, had already recovered full urinary and reproductive functions with his new organ, that was donated by a deceased man. Doctors also say that the procedure could eventually be offered to men who have lost their penis to cancer or as a last resort for severe erectile dysfunction.

“Our goal was that he would be fully functional at two years and we are very surprised by his rapid recovery,” says Andre van der Merwe, head of the university’s urology unit who led the operation, in a statement. Another nine patients have now been lined up to have the operation.

The team of doctors who performed the nine-hour penis transplant led by Andre van der Merwe, head of the urology unit at the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa. – University of Stellenbosch

Technically speaking, this isn't the first time that doctors have attempted or successfully completed a penile transplant. In 2006, Chinese doctors managed to successfully attach the donated penis from the body of a brain-dead young man to the amputated 1-inch stump of a 44-year-old man, who had lost his organ in an accident.

Although the transplanted penis functioned properly and showed no sign of rejection, doctors were forced to remove it two weeks after the operation after the man complained that he and his wife could not deal with the negative psychological effects brought on by his new penis. In that sense, the procedure in China was ultimately deemed a failure.

The transplant patient in South Africa, by comparison, has experienced no such psychological problems so far. However, some medical experts have expressed concern over the long term effects that the procedure may have on the patient, saying doctors should not call the procedure a success until they're sure there are no negative after-effects.

Botched circumcisions 

Each year, thousands of young South African men from the Xhosa tribe mark their passage into manhood by shaving their heads and smearing themselves with white clay from head to toe, living in special huts away from the community for several weeks, and then undergoing ritual circumcision.

But in May 2013, more than 20 youths died after initiation rituals in the northerly Mpumalanga province, prompting rare cross-party calls for reform of a traditional practice.

A few months later, police made several arrests on suspicion of murder after 30 young men died in coming-of-age rituals in rural Eastern Cape. Unlawful circumcisions have been known to injure up to 300 young men across the province in the space of a week.

The South African government has promoted medical circumcisions over the less safe traditional practices. Last year, the Department of Health said it was studying a non-surgical, disposable circumcision device that it believed could also provide a safer alternative.

The Israeli device, PrePex, has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation. It has been piloted at several non-profit sites across South Africa but has not yet been introduced in government hospitals. – Reuters