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Circumcision Gains Ground As AIDS Weapon In Kenya

Posted by pozlife on May 27, 2008


by The Associated Press

Posted: May 26, 2008 – 8:00 am ET

(Kisumu, Kenya) Sitting underneath the bright murals at a clinic, 22-year-old Elijah Ochanda gestures at his shorts and explains: “When they remove this thing, it makes you safer.”

He is talking about the circumcision he is about to undergo at the urging of his older brother. He has watched several friends die of AIDS, and has come to believe the science that says circumcision can prevent men from being infected.

Dr. Robert Bailey, an epidemiology professor from the University of Illinois, is helping to roll out Kenya’s first free circumcision project, which offers operations at public health facilities. Such projects are already running in Swaziland, Rwanda and Zambia, other countries where a large percentage of the population traditionally do not circumcise.

Bailey’s study in Kisumu, western Kenya found infection rates were cut by 60 per cent among men who were circumcised. The study, funded by the U.S. Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was one of several that led the World Health Organization to include circumcision in its prevention policies a year ago.

It prompted the Kenyan government to form a task force to promote voluntary, medically safe operations.

But it’s not that simple. Circumcision has become entangled in the violence that followed the disputed presidential election last December.

Supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, whose Kikuyu tribe circumcises its men, clashed with supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is Luo, a tribe that does not circumcise. The rite took on political significance, with Odinga’s rivals publicly saying he wasn’t a complete man. Many Luo were forcibly circumcised in the violence.

The violence has subsided, but Bailey says it has made the new power-sharing government, with Odinga as prime minister, wary of taking a public stance on circumcision. The disruption initially delayed the launch of the task force’s program.

Still, it’s noteworthy that Ochanda has overcome the tradition issue in opting for circumcision. And the Luo tribe’s council of elders doesn’t forbid it outright although they do say it is contrary to their traditions and worry it will promote promiscuity.

“If you want to do that on your own, no one will question you, but it is not our custom,” said elder Odungi Randa.

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One Response to “Circumcision Gains Ground As AIDS Weapon In Kenya”

  1. The studies which allegedly show a reduction in HIV among circumcised men are highly questionable. Not one of them was finished, despite the protective affect appearing to decline well below the oft-reported 65%, and several of the subjects disappeared. The fact that one study described circumcision as “comparable to a vaccine of high efficacy” seems to show clear bias. They appear to have been seeking a certain result. One has to wonder how many of the people promoting circumcision in Africa are themselves circumcised. Daniel Halperin is the grandson of a mohel, and seems to think that “maybe in some small way (he’s) destined to help pass along (circumcision)” so his objectivity is questionable.

    Other epidemiological studies have shown no correlation between HIV and circumcision, but rather with the numbers of sex workers, or the prevalence of “dry sex”.

    The two continents with the highest rates of AIDS are the same two continents with the highest rates of male circumcision. Rwanda has almost double the rate of HIV in circed men than intact men, yet they’ve just started a nationwide circumcision campaign. Other countries where circumcised men are *more* likely to be HIV+ are Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, and Tanzania. That’s six countries where men are more likely to be HIV+ if they’ve been circumcised. Something is very wrong here. These people aren’t interested in fighting HIV, but in promoting circumcision (or sometimes anything-but-condoms), and their actions will cost lives.

    Circumcised male virgins are more likely to be HIV+ than intact male virgins, as the operation sometimes infects men. The latest news is that circumcised HIV+ men are more likely to transmit the virus to women than intact HIV+ men (even after the healing period is over). Eight additional women appear to have been infected during that study, solely because their husbands were circumcised.

    Female circumcision seems to protect against HIV too btw, but we wouldn’t investigate cutting off women’s labia, and then start promoting that.

    For a good summary of the case against promoting circumcision in Africa, see this link:
    http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/info/HIVStatement.html

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