December 15, 2006 8 Comments
Who would have guessed that the good Dr. Kevin M. De Cock, director of H.I.V./AIDS for the World Health Organization, would have been so presciently named? A study in Kenya and Uganda by the National Institutes of Health has found evidence that circumcision might reduce a man’s risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex by as much as fifty percent. Dr. De Cock reckons that men should not now assume that their circumcised penis has become a kind of magic bullet which they can shove around willy-nilly. Rather, it is, he says, “… a potentially important intervention.” Alas, his caution is correct.
The very same New York Times now trumpeting The Cut some years ago reported another study whose conclusion was quite the opposite. This one after studying almost the same number of men in the US as this more recent one studied in Kenya and Uganda, found that circumcision not only does not lead to lower rates of STDs but that their incidence is actually higher among the circumcised. Quite mysteriously, it also found that circumcised men were much likelier to engage in, to quote the NYT, ‘a varied repertoire of sexual practices, including oral sex, anal sex and masturbation.’ I wonder what Dr. De Cock has to say about all this and perhaps less pertinently, but more interestingly, whether he is circumcised or not.
To digress slightly: what kind of teasing was poor De Cock subjected to in school? I can just hear the jeering chorus, “De Cock, the Cock, De Cock, the Cock…” It must have been hell for the boy, and I am deeply ashamed that I should find it so funny at my age.
Anyway, hard on the heels of the pro-circumcision study, two of the larger HIV/AIDS funds are considering paying for The Cut in high-risk countries. Daniel Halperin, a Harvard HIV specialist extraordinaire, excitedly responded, “I have no doubt that as word of this gets around, millions of African men will want to get circumcised, and that will save many lives.” That is the kind of enthusiasm displayed by a man who got The Cut as an infant in a bright shiny hospital. Not as a teenager by a circumciser who declared the use of anesthetic to be unmanly as yours truly lay trouser-less, sweating onto the cold plastic of the hospital cot and praying to the gods for a last minute reprieve and failing that at least an injection of painkiller.
I really could not have guessed that my being tricked into the little Kiambu clinic was in fact a considerate attempt on the part of my father and uncle to reduce the number of Langerhans cells I had and thus potentially save me from future HIV infection. Yes, I was tricked, deceived, lied to, bamboozled, led astray, run amuck.
I had just completed my Certificate of Primary Education exams and found my dear father waiting in his car, a big smile on his face. “Would you like to go to town for an after-exam treat at Wimpy and then go visit your granddad’s clinic?” he asked, hugging me to him. A few hours and pints of blood later, I was a man.
Perhaps a twelve-year old man who had briefly fainted from blood loss, but a man nevertheless – and it should be noted that I took the procedure with nary a sound (this is a very important fact, perhaps the most important of all to those of you unused to male pride in enduring pain for no great purpose.) I was finally free of those troublesome Langerhans that had up to then called the underside of my foreskin home. I wish Dr. De Cock had been around then so that the procedure was paid for by American money, in a clinic that insisted on the use of anesthetic and kept me far from the trickery of my father who to this day chuckles every time we drive by the stone and corrugated iron building that used to house my late grandfather’s clinic.