Tuesday, July 3, 2012

KENYA: Parents can be talked into accepting infant circumcision - Dr Robert Bailey, one man, many hats

July 2, 2012

Kenya: Nyanza Residents Warm Up to Infant Male Circumcision

By Samuel Otieno
THE National Male Circumcision taskforce got a major boost in its strategy to focus circumcision on infants after 92 percent of the parents agreed to the strategy. The research, conducted by the University of Illinois and the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society to assess the acceptability of infant male circumcision, said many parents want their children to be circumcised at certain ages.
[This sounds like two independent bodies, but the Secretary of the Board of the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society is Dr Robert Bailey, who is a Professor of Epidemiology and an adjunct professor of Anthropology in the University of Chicago at Illinois. Prof. Bailey also led the Kenya study that claimed to find circumcising men reduces their risk of contracting HIV. Can you say "one man band"?
It's a neat strategy, to conduct a "push" poll (a well known tactic in politics, a poll with questions loaded to give the answers you want) about parents' willingness to circumcise infants. Then spin the results as if they are good reasons to circumcise infants. There is no evidence whatsoever that infant circumcison has any effect on the transmission of HIV. (The studies claiming reduction were carried out on adult volunteers.)]
Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) programmes like Kenya's focus on reducing HIV infections by increasing uptake of male circumcision among adult men and adolescents. The study, published in the Paediatrics journal, sampled 627 women and 493 men in Nyanza and found out that Fathers are the primary decision makers on whether to circumcise their infant sons. [No infant ever volunteers to have part of his or her genitals cut off.]
The study was conducted from March to October 2010 at five government hospitals focussed on reality of acceptability and decision-making among parents who had accepted or declined the offer of IMC. Mothers were approached individually and asked whether they would like to have their infant sons circumcised. Those who accepted were asked by the researchers for permission to contact their husbands.

The research found out that mothers appeared to belief that circumcised men experience more sexual pleasure, while fathers were more likely to accept IMC if they thought women enjoyed sex more with circumcised men. Mothers also cited protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, penile hygiene and religious reasons.

Fathers gave similar reasons, but many cited penile hygiene as the main reason for accepting IMC. Reasons given against the IMC by mothers were pain, risk of injury or complications, deferring circumcision to an older age, opposition by the father and reluctance to go against cultural tradition.

Fathers cited going against tradition as their main reason against circumcision. Most parents did not oppose male circumcision while 92 percent want their sons to be circumcised at some age. IMC is rarely practised in Eastern and Southern Africa.


  1. This is not surprising. Male cutting is the dominant culture in Kenya and belief in the usual myths - improved hygiene, sexual performance and appearance, plus the HIV link and other supposed health benefits - is widespread even outside the tribes that practice it for cultural reasons. It is so embedded in the socio-political landscape that the intact status of uncircumcised men can even be used as a political weapon to insult and attack them, including physically in extreme cases (the forced cutting of intact boys from non-cutting tribes by mobs of recently cut teens from cutting tribes is not uncommon in times of unrest). If Bailey wants to start rolling out neonatal cutting in Africa, he couldn't have chosen an easier target, even though cultural traditions demand that it be done as a rite of passage for teens.