Sometimes it takes awhile for medical scientists to understand the importance of the discoveries made by fellow researchers. Such was the case of the link between the foreskin and HIV/AIDs, a discovery first made nearly 25 years ago.
Alex Renton, a reporter for The Observer, wrote this over the weekend:
"In 1985 researchers discovered that circumcised men who visited prostitutes in Kenya were much less likely to contract HIV. Some 30 studies on the issue were done during the 1990s, but it was not until 2004 that formal double-blind trials were commissioned by international Aids agencies. As a result of "overwhelming results" from these, pilot programmes for mass circumcision of men began in a number of African countries late last year. "
"It is now accepted by the World Health Organisation and other bodies that circumcision reduces chances of HIV infection by about 60%, and that up to 3 million deaths and 5.7 million infections could be prevented over the next 20 years. About 30 million people are thought to have died from Aids-related illnesses since 1981."
Dr Catherine Hankins, the chief scientific adviser to UNAids, the United Nations special agency for the epidemic, said that the failure to test the findings in the 1990s was "hard to explain".
"There's a good question to be asked of the research agencies: why they did not start the trials earlier," said Hankins. "We had 20 years of observational data on circumcision. I can't think of another product, or a technique, that waited for so long before trials." Circumcision has now been proved a very cost-effective way of reducing the rate of HIV infection, she said.
"Professor Francis Plummer, who led the University of Nairobi research team that first discovered the circumcision-HIV link in Kenya in the 1980s, said millions of lives might have been saved if his research had been acted upon sooner.
"There's been a failure of global public health institutions. We haven't done it very well. It's a frustration I've lived with for a very long time," Plummer said.
The failure of public health organizations to act has been deadly, not just in Africa but all over the world. In 2009, there is absolutely no reason for any male to have a disease-causing filthy foreskin. How long must we wait until the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to say nothing of their counterparts in other countries, wake up? It's time for the AAP and CDC to state clearly: the circumcision of every boy is a must to protect not only their own health, but also the health of their partners and society as a whole.