Friday, July 02, 2010

Circumcision time again

The time honored barbarism of killing young (South) African men in that traditional practice of circumcision has again yielded a decent crop of dead men in South Africa. Reportedly about 150 young men died in circumcision ceremonies (or as a result of their participation) between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2009. So-called traditional healers (elevated to a profession under the able guidance of the late Dr Beetroot, the former South African health minister and arch AIDS denialist Manto Tshabalala-Msimang) are frequently involved in botched circumcisions, causing so substantial numbers of avoidable deaths. The opposition DA party suggests that the actual circumcision should take place in a hospital. Now that's a thought.

Of course, there will be those who say that circumcision is always wrong, and - my own preferences to the contrary notwithstanding - there's some truth in that. The thing is though, since we have fairly strong evidence that circumcision dramatically reduces the risk of catching HIV there's probably a public health argument to be had - in Southern Africa - for undertaking circumcisions. Wouldn't it be nice though, if authorities in that country managed to have them conducted in such a way that not so many young men needlessly lose their lives over them?

1 comment:

  1. "[F]airly strong evidence that circumcision dramatically reduces the risk of catching HIV" is an exaggeration.

    The actual numbers are that less than two years after circumcising 5,400 men in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, 64 circumcised men contracted HIV, and 137 of a similar number not circumcised. The difference, 73 men, is the total basis of the claims.

    327 circumcised men dropped out of the studies, their HIV status unknown, easily enough to conceal sufficient extra HIV+ men to make the difference statistically insignificant.

    And a study by Maria Wawer et al. in Uganda found 18% of the woman partners of circumcised HIV+ men became HIV+, compared with only 12% of the partners of non-circumcised HIV+ men. That study was stopped "for futility" before the figures could reach statistical significance. (There would have been no ethical objection to allowing the study to run, because they had established that circumcising the control group would not protect the women.)

    So encouraging men to have themselves circumcised may not only fail to protect them, but may actually increase the risk of them passing HIV on to their partners.

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