REPORT: Events In South Africa Perpetuate Male Circumsicion Debate

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The 2010 FIFA World Cup may have placed South Africa in the international headlines for all the right reasons, but a series of domestic events have the African nation at the forefront of a debate that goes well beyond the football field.

At the same time BBC News revealed June 18 that twenty boys in South Africa’s East Cape Province had died of complications related to male circumcision, another 800 were circumcised in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal.

In East Cape, 9 boys had died in the 24 hours before June 18 and another 11 in the twelve days prior.

Of the 60 boys that were rescued from illegal initiation camps, all were reported to be suffering from dehydration and septic wounds, and 4 faced the likelihood of having their genitals completely removed.

Reports suggest the incident involved tribal initiation practices where those performing the circumcisions were not authorized or trained in accord with South African law.

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In neighboring KwaZulu-Natal province, premier Zweli Mkhize told reporters his government was satisfied with the approach taken to reduce HIV infections and was pursuing a target of 47,055 newborn and 186,703 boys’ circumcisions throughout 2010/2011.

“So far 800 males have been circumcised as of the end of April,” said Mkhize. “We are very happy with the programme.”

The province has played host to a male circumcision conference in recent days where representatives from John Hopkins University were reported to be in attendance.

The event, held around the same time as the mass circumcision, focused on the link between HIV prevention and circumcision.

Past studies suggest that the contraction of HIV between males and females can be reduced by 60 per cent through the partial removal of the penis’ foreskin.

Opponents of male circumcision in the United States argue that the practice robs a child of particular penile functions like the protection against dryness, chafing and abrasions that can allow for the entry of STDs and other bacteria.

While criticisms of the practice have been prevalent for decades in the United States, the country continues to be the world’s largest practitioner of male circumcisions.

In the 20th century over 120 million American boys went under the knife to receive what is now regarded as a ‘cultural surgery.’

Yet since the 1970s the American Academy of Pediatrics has upheld the claim that the amount of circumcision-related complications is unknown.

Male circumcision opponent NOHARMM estimates that the rate of complications range between 2 and 10 per cent of all circumcisions performed in the US.

Author and doctor, Robert Baker M.D, said in 1979 that, “Circumcision, the most widely performed surgery on males in this country, has the least scientific justification of any surgical procedure.”

NOHARMM claims the surgical procedure has continued since then at a rate of around 60 per cent of all male births.

Domestic criticisms aside, the issue remains that Africans continue to suffer the consequences of rampant HIV.

South Africa is home to world’s largest population of people living with the virus.

The country is expected to circumcise 2 million boys in the next 5 years.

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