On the second day of the International AIDS Society Conference in Rome, we talked to two people in important positions. The two circumcision advocates/program coordinators offered a despairing glimpse into the future on the one hand and offered us hope that some of them can be reached, on the other.
A Director of the Ministry of Health in South Africa, whose position is clearly influential, had difficulty moving beyond her own cultural beliefs. She seemed to believe objectivity is unnecessary and hence separating her own beliefs from her role in health programming is unnecessary. While insisting that her tribal and cultural beliefs in practicing male circumcision must be respected, she discounted her own lack of honesty in promoting circumcision to non-circumcising tribes. She recounted myths and offensive references that the foreskin was dirty and men don’t wash. It was very difficult to engage her in critical thinking which is disturbing, considering her influential position.
We had a very encouraging conversation with the Ethiopian-born, lead educator in a neonatal circumcision effort. In his position, he is in charge of rolling out neonatal circumcision programs for HIV prevention in several African countries. He has always believed in the acceptability of neonatal circumcision because he comes from a circumcising culture himself. Nevertheless, he is very interested in working with us to reach common ground, but was most interested in learning about harms from circumcision. We believe his sincere approach for information is a significant opportunity to engage him in further discussion.