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Perspectives

June 9, 2009
Rumors, confusion hinder battle against HIV in Cameroon

An educational poster in Africa provides facts on HIV/AIDS.

Health studies have shown that male circumcision can reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

In Africa, several governments have implemented male circumcision as part of their AIDS prevention strategies. Most recently, Botswana launched a massive circumcision drive targeting nearly half a million men.

Steve Jackson works with COPAAP, an organization that fights the spread of HIV/AIDS in Cameroon. He writes on his blog to discuss the dangers of relying extensively on circumcision.

Circumcision is a red herring

I work for an organization in Cameroon that supports local villages in helping to stop the spread of AIDS while assisting people living with HIV/AIDS to hopefully have as normal lives as possible.

If you can imagine what we are battling with in terms of getting messages across — I have some issues with ABC (abstinence, be-faithful, condom).  Personally I’d go with condom, condom, condom and let people choose their own ideals — but I can work with this. Now even within that area I can show you this picture. This is proudly on display at a local Catholic church.  And people believe this stuff. Recently the Pope decided to pay this country a visit and told everyone that condoms were making the problem worse.

On top of that you have traditional healers — recently my boss told me of one that had claimed to have cured two AIDS patients. It turns out where it said “negative” on their medical records was next to Malaria not HIV. But these claims and rumors take hold. I haven’t seen it here but we’ve all heard African tales of how having sex with a virgin will cure you of AIDS. […]

I am saying this without any doubt at all — if you tell people that circumcision helps reduce the risk of AIDS then they will think they can have sex without danger.  The problem would get worse. […]There are already so many rumors and half truths and downright lies that people are entirely confused. People are already willing to risk sex with people they know to carry the disease.  You start telling them a simply surgical procedure will make them less likely to contract the disease and it will soon be widely understood that you CAN NOT become infected if you are circumcised.

And how would that circumcision take place?  It’s not like there are mobile, sterile, clinics on hand.  How long before it becomes an extension of the body mutilation that is practiced here?

In other words — how long before circumcision is carried out by a traditional healer, witch doctor, family member etc — in entirely unhygienic circumstances? Hugely painful for an adult — hugely dangerous for a child. […]

If you want to fight AIDS then you need foolproof methods.  It’s not enough to just lower the odds. […]

Truth is there [are] already perfectly good, cheap ways to defeat the spread of HIV/AIDS, we just have to stop the misinformation (much of it coming from the developed world) and commit to teaching the same methods and same practices.

There are already enough red herrings without introducing another one.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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Comments

6 comments

#6

Niila: “Good luck!” Yeah, right, they’ll need that.

“it reduces the incidence of skin infections like fungi.” Athletes foot is a fungus too, so why not cut their toes off to prevent that?

“… circumcise them as a babies – problem solved.” Except for their human rights.

#5

It is not enough to say circumcision (or anything else) “reduces the risk” without saying from what, to what. Even if the African studies are correct, it would take about 50 circumcisions there to prevent one HIV transmission, and then only from woman to man. It would be hundreds of circumcisions in the developed world. That’s a lot of time, cost and skill that could be spent more productively. Condoms work both ways, and with the much more risky sex between men.

#4

[…] More: Rumors, difficulty impede conflict opposite HIV in Cameroon | Worldfocus […]

#3

[…] More: Rumors, difficulty impede conflict opposite HIV in Cameroon | Worldfocus […]

#2

Circumcism is necessary (especially in warmer climates), because it reduces the incidence of skin infections like fungi. It is a matter of cleanliness and hygene. If an adult is circumcised and has sex before the skin in completely healed, then of course the virus can enter the body at the cut.

Ignorance of microbiology is the source of mis-understandings. Let them get circumcised but dont let them have sex for 6 weeks — good luck!

Better yet, circumcise them as a babies – problem solved. (except for the current males)

#1

There are seven African countries where men are more likely to be HIV+ if they’ve been circumcised: Rwanda, Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, and Tanzania. For example in Rwanda, 3.5% of circumcised men have HIV, but only 2.1% of intact men. In Cameroon, 4.1% of circumcised men have HIV, but only 1.1% of intact men. If circumcision really worked against AIDS, this just wouldn’t happen. We now have people calling circumcision a “vaccine” or “invisible condom”, and viewing circumcision as an alternative to condoms.

ABC (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condoms) is the way forward. Promoting genital surgery will cost African lives, not save them.

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