I don’t know what it is, but I never pass up an opportunity to debate circumcision, and especially its utility as an HIV prevention method. Today the Washington Post reports that members of the Luos tribe in Kenya are embracing the practice, convinced that their decimation from AIDS relative to other Kenyans is due to their uncircumcised status.
The World Health Organization endorsed circumcision as an HIV-preventative last year in response to studies showing that African men are 60 percent less likely to contract the disease if they are circumcised. This Post article goes further than others I’ve read on the topic and blames the lack of circumcision among some African tribes for the original spread of the disease:
AIDS emanated from the jungles of Cameroon or Gabon but hit massive epidemic levels after reaching the uncircumcised tribes around Lake Victoria and, later, southern African tribes that had abandoned their own traditional circumcision rites.
I think circumcision shows a lot of promise as a way to beat back the AIDS epidemic in Africa — the UN estimates the practice could save 5.7 million lives. Whether we should also be promoting circumcision as a public health practice among American men, whose sexual habits and risk levels are very different, is a different debate. American AIDS advocates tend to be wary, as they should be, of any program that shifts emphasis away from condom use. Indeed, men who undergo circumcision as adults, in Africa, the United States, or anywhere else, must understand that unless they practice safe sex, they will remain at risk. So while it’s encouraging that the Bush administration is pledging millions of dollars to promote circumcision in Africa, it’s dispiriting that it continues to block any U.S. funding of foreign contraception programs.