July 22, 2012
Battle over circumcisionBy Pamela Constable
An impassioned battle over male circumcision emerged at the conference Monday, where advocates said the procedure would help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in impoverished countries, but opponents asserted it would undermine the use of condoms while doing nothing to stop virus transmission.
Male circumcision has become increasingly accepted in Africa and Asia as awareness of AIDS has spread. A display by the AIDS Council of Zimbabwe featured photographs of boys in tribal costumes at a mass circumcision ceremony. Constant Karma, a doctor from Papua, Indonesia, led a delegation that promotes circumcision among religious communities there. He handed out brochures quoting Biblical verses and illustrated with traditional drawings of priests circumcising men. Karma said the former Dutch colonial rulers in Indonesia banned traditional circumcision for generations, but the AIDS epidemic has spurred activists to re-introduce a modern version.
“We are going to every church and mosque with our message. We have to do everything we can to stop the spread of AIDS,” Karma said through a translator. “We know how important this is, but even now there are groups preaching against it.”
Outside the convention center, protesters had erected banners that said “Circumcision is Torture” and “Intact Genitals are a Human Right.” Natalie Erdossy, 29, an activist from Reston, said circumcision is not the answer to AIDS, and that it can lull men into thinking wrongly that they are protected against the virus.
“People are touting studies from Africa saying circumcision reduces HIV infection,” she said. “That is totally flawed. Only condoms protect people from it. If a man in Africa hears that circumcision can protect him, he’ll think, ‘Hot dog, now I don’t have to use a condom.’”
Brochures handed out by Erdossy and a group called NOCIRC said male circumcision might actually increase the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission and place female partners at greater risk, because circumcised men may believe it provides an “invisible condom.” They also said there is frequent risk of infection from surgical complications.