Perhaps sensing the unstoppable tide of misinterpreted science and careless attention to human rights and ethics, The Lancet published today two recent studies said to validate surgical modification of male genitals in reducing female-to-male HIV infection.
The recent mood in the HIV/AIDS community has been gloomy. This research is an acknowledgment of a generalized failure in the face of an entirely preventable “social” disease.
HIV infection rates are a tiny fraction of over all disease in developed countries for very good reasons. Even the most basic improvements in health care systems render the heterosexual HIV transmission risk non-threatening to the vast majority of the populace. Basic hygiene (from running water), testing, and education have quarantined the virus into “concentrated” high risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, sex workers, and highly sexually-active (and incautious) gay males.
Despite years of observational data that showed a lower HIV risk to the owners of surgically modified male genitals, research scientists were hardly taken seriously when suggesting an irreversible, ethically fraught procedure with unknown and unacknowledged long-term detrimental effects.
Their message has now gained traction and threatens to leave a swath across Africa of misunderstanding, medical mishaps, and diverted resources.
Yet, no one has asked, if HIV/AIDS rates were at .3% with a yearly death rate of under a 100 as in Belgium, or .1% with yearly deaths under a 1000 as in Germany, would there be calls to mass-circumcise the male populace? The answer is, of course not.
Instead of committing to improved health care for Africa and beyond, the world has said to them, “Go circumcise.”
This is shameful, indeed.