A disconnect between foreign-dictated well-meaning efforts and the actual experiences of the people at the grassroots?
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, UNAIDS, USAID, PEPFAR, and numerous NGOs have circumcised 12 million Africans to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. The world has not heard a word from them until now.
The VMMC Experience Project sent cameras into Uganda and Kenya to document the realities of the mass circumcision program. Local investigators conducted interviews with 90 affected men and women and found:
- Africans are told circumcision conveys immunity from HIV.
- Condom use is at an all-time low, and AIDS is on the rise.
- The program is killing the very people it is supposed to help.
- No follow-up post circumcision (cut-and-release approach).
- Resentment and outrage among Africans.
The “voluntary medical male circumcision” (VMMC) public health program is the first mass surgical campaign in human history. It targets Africans exclusively, leading some to question whether there are underlying racial motives. For centuries, western stereotypes have held that African men are lascivious or hypersexed, unable to control their sexual urges. Compulsory African-American male circumcision campaigns were proposed as early as the nineteenth century.
Prince Hillary Maloba is a native Kenyan, director of the VMMC Experience Project, and the driving force behind the investigation. “Male circumcision,” he explains, “as a project that has been applied for we [sic] Africans, has failed to reduce HIV the way we were told. Two, we view it as a violation of human rights. How target only one race in the entire world?”
Bishop Cleophas Matete, another native Kenyan, agrees, “I believe the entire process of trying to test it in Africa was wrong from the beginning.”
The mass circumcision campaign was introduced to reduce the incidence of HIV in fourteen sub-Saharan African countries that did not initially practice genital cutting. However, UNAIDS data indicate that the African HIV epidemic has only worsened since 2010 — shortly after VMMC was implemented. For the first time since the war on AIDS began, HIV is back on the rise.
The World Health Organization claims that male circumcision curbs female-to-male HIV transmission by up to 60 percent and provides lifelong partial protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Their conclusions derive from a process of contentious surgical experimentation on Africans.
Opponents allege that the targeting of impoverished Africans constitutes a racial and human rights issue. Comparisons are made to the Tuskegee syphilis study.
Others argue that the program results in a dangerous false security. The present investigation confirms that men, women, and teens are abandoning condoms out of a belief that they are already protected by circumcision. This in turn increases the spread of HIV.
Prior to the VMMC Experience Project investigation, none have consulted or followed up with the men and women who have been directly affected. Many are living in rural poverty, invisible to the developed world. They have had no platform or voice in the circumcision agenda. Maloba’s investigation is the first to shed light on the African side of the story.
African men and women say the campaign is violating their rights, confusing their cultural identity, and profoundly worsening the AIDS epidemic. They implicate the program in the spike in HIV cases we have seen in recent years. Seven respondents in Maloba’s investigation said that they had acquired HIV because of misinformation around circumcision.
“I blame those who told me that if I get circumcised I won’t get HIV,” said one respondent, “and I got HIV already!” Others mourned the loss of friends, brothers, relatives, and neighbors to AIDS following the procedure they believed would protect them. “These people are dying of HIV due to ignorance,” a respondent explained.
“If we don’t stop this thing,” Maloba warns, “this community will not have a generation that will take care of the old people.”
Instead of mass circumcision, Africans want funding for sustainable medical facilities, anti-retroviral medications (ARVs), more durable condoms, HIV education, and poverty reduction initiatives. Many cite AIDS-related tragedies from the VMMC program. They seek an end to the circumcision campaign as a public health disaster and a form of cultural imperialism from the West. “It is something that has been imposed on us,” a reverend explained in his interview. “If I could get a forum to fight it, I could fight it very hard.”
The VMMC Experience Project is a nonprofit effort to document the effects and aftermath of the world’s first mass surgical campaign. Its aim is to empower the most frequently overlooked contingent in the African circumcision regime: Africans.