African men are being led to believe that, if they get circumcised, they are protected from HIV. Proponents are calling it a 'vaccine;' but it is not a vaccine and these men are being prompted to get circumcised under false pretenses.
"The century-old circumcision 'experiment' in the United States is a failure, why should sub-Saharan Africa be any different?" asks Dan Bollinger, director of ICGI. "We are deeply concerned about the long-term consequences of mass circumcision campaigns, from increasing infections and deaths, to human rights violations, and creating a false sense of immunity in African men. And even as adults are being targeted for genital cutting, it still remains an invalid justification to forcibly cut the genitals of infants and children."
Circumcision is not the panacea the world has been awaiting. The emphasis needs to stay on proven HIV deterrents - the basic tenets of the ABC campaign. Shifting emphasis from proven HIV-reduction programs, such as abstinence and condoms, to risky and unsafe surgeries could ultimately endanger the lives of millions of African men and their partners.
Bollinger says, "Whether circumcised or not, individuals engaging in high-risk behaviors are still at risk. The new genital-cutting campaign sends a dangerous message of false protection to Africans. Scientists also report that female circumcision reduces HIV transmission; are WHO and UNAIDS going to promote female genital cutting, too?"
There is significant risk of HIV transmission by the operation itself through the use of contaminated instruments and unsterile conditions according to researchers Deuchert and Gisselquist. Mass circumcision campaigns cannot be carried out with the same aseptic conditions of the scientific experiments, education programs, and emphasis on condom use. And a 2007 study by Brewer published in 'Annals of Epidemiology' says circumcised men are three times as likely to transmit HIV to their partners.
Some areas of Africa have high rates of circumcision and HIV infection. As the African studies confirmed, circumcised men still get AIDS. In comparison, three-fourths of adult males are circumcised in the United States, which has a higher HIV-infection rate than its non-circumcised European counterparts.
A newly published study by Sorrells, "Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis", shows that circumcision significantly decreases penile sensitivity, not only raising serious human rights concerns but also a genuine concern that circumcised men, with one-fourth the penile sensitivity as intact men, might not wear condoms, which further desensitize the penis.
If such circumcision programs are to be funded at the expense of other programs, such as the "zero grazing" campaign in Uganda, the result will be an even greater increase in the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission.
Until vaccines are available, the emphasis needs to stay on proven, safe, and cost-effective methods of HIV prevention.