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Opinion: Male circumcision alone won't solve Africa's HIV problem

Anti-AIDS measures cannot be considered separately from Africa's cultural context. Education must be emphasized.

Can Africa’s staff-starved public health system afford this? Mozambique has less than 600 doctors for nearly 21 million people. Nationwide, there is one doctor per 44,000 people and in remote Cabo Delgado province the ratio is one to 60,000. The average in Sub-Saharan Africa is one doctor to 22,000 people.

Are we robbing Peter to cut Paul?

Is this an example of the West's fixation with quick technological fixes to solve intractable problems? Counseling, routine testing, multiple concurrent partners — every five years a silver bullet to kill the AIDS vampire appears.

Male circumcision cuts (no pun intended) across Africa's tribal and religious fault lines. During Kenya's ethnic violence two years ago, the Luo and the Kikuyu traded hateful insults around being circumcised and civilized and vice versa.

In South Africa the circumcised Xhosa look down on the uncircumcised Zulus. “He is an uncut boy,” is an insult among politicians.

People feel strongly about it, to the point of violence.

Bonani Yamani, 21, a Xhosa man and a born again Christian, refused the traditional circumcision rite because it goes against his beliefs. Instead, he had a medical circumcision in hospital.

His parents had him abducted and forced through the ritual. The young man sued his father and local traditional leaders. Last week he won recognition of his right to choose the manhood test and an apology from the traditional leaders.

Through history, male circumcision has been used as a tool to control, conquer and separate peoples, from the Romans to the Arabs. It is central to the concept of masculinity and belonging to a community.

This is why a medical intervention like mass male circumcision should not be de-linked from Africa's cultural context.

More GlobalPost dispatches on male circumcision in Africa:

A report from a fishing village on Lake Victoria, a video of circumcision, a Kenyan doctor gives his personal thoughts about circumcision, a South African doctor talks about the drive in southern African countries.