Thursday, July 07, 2005

Male circumcision and AIDS

The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. required; here is another report) the dramatic results of a recent medical study:
In a potentially major breakthrough in the campaign against AIDS, French and South African researchers have apparently found that male circumcision reduces by about 70% the risk that men will contract HIV through intercourse with infected women.
Other than abstinence and safer sex, almost nothing has been proved to reduce the sexual spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. World-wide, the major route of HIV transmission for many years has been heterosexual sex.
Vaccine developers have said they would consider an AIDS vaccine with just 30% efficacy useful. But so far, no effective vaccine against the disease has been developed, leaving AIDS workers desperate for another tool to help them stem the tide of new infections, estimated at almost five million last year.
The circumcision findings were so dramatic that the data and safety monitoring board overseeing the research halted the study in February, about nine months before it would have been completed, on the grounds that it would be immoral to proceed without offering the uncircumcised control group the opportunity to undergo the procedure. While men were directly protected from infection by circumcision, women could benefit indirectly because circumcision would reduce the chances their partners would be HIV-positive.
This seems like great news, if the findings are confirmed by other studies. At the same time I have a hard time accepting some of the attitudes apparently held in Africa, that I hear about. Often men don't seem to care that they are infecting their partners with HIV (see here and here):
Girls and women are often forced to have sex with men in male-dominated African cultures. In fact, says journalist Thomas, in some areas infected men "believe they can be cured by having sex with a virgin, and 12-year-old girls become infected."
The AIDS rate among women is much higher than among men, but as Shell points out "most men are not being tested."
Meanwhile, they unknowingly may be passing on the infection to African women. Compounding the problem, according to a U.N. study, is that 30 percent of young African women believe if a man looks healthy, he could not have AIDS.
According to a South African friend of mine, the government sponsored HIV/AIDS education programs in her country claim that fat people don't get AIDS. In a related scandal Muslim clerics have ensured the spread of polio in Nigeria by claiming that the Western donated vaccine is a ploy to make Africans infertile.
Clearly circumcision could be a big step forward, but it seems to me that other attitudes also need to change. It should also be noted that male circumcision is totally incomparable to female "circumcision," which is a euphemism for the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation.

1 comment:

Chiara said...

As far as female circumcision is concerned I would like to add that it is a practice currently adopted in all Central Africa countries. Every baby girl is mutilated when she is approximately 12 years old, following a ritual ceremony which simbolyzes her entrance to the adult world. It is not conceivable for a woman not to be circumcised. She would never have the chance to get married if she wants to. She would be forced to leave her village forever if someone finds out she has not been mutilated. It is a shame that no international organization has ever intervened against such a clear violation of human rights in order to respect "different traditions and cultures".