The decision to recommend male circumcision to help prevent HIV transmission was a flawed process controlled by a small network of circumcision advocates who avoided open debate.
The following abstracts are from Global Public Health, volume 10, issue 5-6, 2015.
Kirsten Bell. HIV prevention: Making male circumcision the ‘right’ tool for the job
In recent years, HIV/AIDS programming has been transformed by an ostensibly ‘new’ procedure: male circumcision. This article examines the rise of male circumcision as the ‘right’ HIV prevention tool. Treating this controversial topic as a ‘matter of concern’ rather than a ‘matter of fact’, I examine the reasons why male circumcision came to be seen as a partial solution to the problem of HIV transmission in the twenty-first century and to what effect. Grounded in a close reading of the primary literature, I suggest that the embrace of male circumcision in HIV prevention must be understood in relation to three factors: (1) the rise of evidence-based medicine as the dominant paradigm for conceptualising medical knowledge, (2) the fraught politics of HIV/AIDS research and funding, which made the possibility of a biomedical intervention attractive and (3) underlying assumptions about the nature of African ‘culture’ and ‘sexuality’. I conclude by stressing the need to expand the parameters of the debate beyond the current polarised landscape, which presents us with a problematic either/or scenario regarding the efficacy of male circumcision.
Robert Darby. Syphilis 1855 and HIV-AIDS 2007: Historical reflections on the tendency to blame human anatomy for the action of micro-organisms
In this paper, I discuss the parallels between responses to syphilis in nineteenth century Britain and HIV/AIDS in contemporary Africa. In each case, an incurable disease connected with sexual behaviour aroused fear, stigmatisation and moralistic responses, as well as a desperate scramble to find an effective means of control. In both cases, circumcision of adult males, and then of children or infants, was proposed as the key tactic. In the ensuing debates over the effectiveness and propriety of this approach, three questions occupied health authorities in both Victorian Britain and the contemporary world: (1) Were circumcised men at significantly lower risk of these diseases? (2) If there was evidence pointing to an affirmative answer, was it altered anatomy or different behaviour that explained the difference? (3) Given that circumcision was a surgical procedure with attendant risks of infection, was it possible that circumcision spread syphilis or HIV? I show that in both situations the answers to these questions were inconclusive, argue that circumcision played little or no role in the eventual control of syphilis and suggest that attention to nineteenth century debates may assist contemporary policy-makers to avoid the treatment dead-ends and ethical transgressions that marked the war on syphilis.
Alain Giami, Christophe Perrey, André Luiz de Oliveira Mendonça & Kenneth Rochel de Camargo. Hybrid forum or network? The social and political construction of an international ‘technical consultation’: Male circumcision and HIV prevention
The technical consultation in Montreux, organised by World Health Organization and UNAIDS in 2007, recommended male circumcision as a method for preventing HIV transmission. This consultation came out of a long process of releasing reports and holding international and regional conferences, a process steered by an informal network. This network’s relations with other parties is analysed along with its way of working and the exchanges during the technical consultation that led up to the formal adoption of a recommendation. Conducted in relation to the concepts of a ‘hybrid forum’ and ‘network’, this article shows that the decision was based on the formation and consolidation of a network of persons. They were active in all phases of this process, ranging from studies of the recommendation’s efficacy, feasibility and acceptability to its adoption and implementation. In this sense, this consultation cannot be described as the constitution of a ‘hybrid forum’, which is characterised by its openness to a debate as well as a plurality of issues formulated by the actors and of resources used by them. On the contrary, little room was allowed for contradictory discussions, as if the decision had already been made before the Montreux consultation.
Robert Van Howe. Circumcision as a primary HIV preventive: Extrapolating from the available data
Billions of dollars to circumcise millions of African males as an HIV infection prevention have been sought, yet the effectiveness of circumcision has not been demonstrated. Data from 109 populations comparing HIV prevalence and incidence in men based on circumcision status were evaluated using meta-regression. The impact on the association between circumcision and HIV incidence/prevalence of the HIV risk profile of the population, the circumcision rates within the population and whether the population was in Africa were assessed. No significant difference in the risk of HIV infection based on the circumcision status was seen in general populations. Studies of high-risk populations and populations with a higher prevalence of male circumcision reported significantly greater odds ratios (odds of intact man having HIV) (p < .0001). When adjusted for the impact of a high-risk population and the circumcision rate of the population, the baseline odds ratio was 0.78 (95% CI = 0.56–1.09). No consistent association between presence of HIV infection and circumcision status of adult males in general populations was found. When adjusted for other factors, having a foreskin was not a significant risk factor. This undermines the justification for using circumcision as a primary preventive for HIV infection.
Guillermo Martínez Pérez, Laura Triviño Durána, Angel Gasch. Towards a gender perspective in qualitative research on voluntary medical male circumcision in east and southern Africa
The World Health Organization endorsed voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) in 2007 as an effective method to provide partial protection against heterosexual female-to-male transmission of HIV in regions with high rates of such transmission, and where uptake of VMMC is low. Qualitative research conducted in east and southern Africa has focused on assessing acceptability, barriers to uptake of VMMC and the likelihood of VMMC increasing men’s adoption of risky sexual behaviours. Less researched, however, have been the perceptions of women and sexual minorities towards VMMC, even though they are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS transmission than are heterosexual men. The purpose of this paper is to identify core areas in which a gendered perspective in qualitative research might improve the understanding and framing of VMMC in east and southern Africa. Issues explored in this analysis are risk compensation, the post-circumcision appearance of the penis, inclusion of men who have sex with men as study respondents and the antagonistic relation between VMMC and female genital cutting. If biomedical and social science researchers explore these issues in future qualitative inquiry utilising a gendered perspective, a more thorough understanding of VMMC can be achieved, which could ultimately inform policy and implementation.
Kenneth Rochel de Camargo, Jr., Andre Luiz de Oliveira Mendonca, Christophe Perrey and Alain Giami. Male circumcision and HIV: A controversy study on facts and values
We present a controversy study on the association between male circumcision (MC) and HIV. Our general goal is to shed light on the issue, unravelling and comparing different conceptions of scientific evidence and their respective world views. We seek to reconstruct, based on an analysis of the literature on the topic, key moments in the history of the controversy about the association between MC and HIV prevention, analysing more closely three recent randomised studies, given their relevance to the argumentative strategy employed by those who defend circumcision as a prevention method. Following this, we present a synthesis of the main arguments against the three referred studies. In conclusion, it seems that reasonable arguments for a more cautious approach are not being adequately considered.