Monday, October 16, 2006

Jumping the gun with a knife

Anyone can make a mistake. Ask USAID, which according to a New York Times dispatch, mistakenly financed a program in Swaziland that promoted circumcision to prevent the spread of H.I.V. According to USAID spokeman David Snider, the agency gave Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) about $150,000 in funds last year, and the latter went off and circumcised 328 men. That was a mistake. USAID, like WHO, has a policy of waiting for the results of two studies in Kenya and Uganda -- studies which are supposed to confirm that circumcision can reduce a man's risk of getting HIV from women -- before bringing scalpels to bear on foreskins.

On the other hand, the mistake may in fact have been overzealousness. It is not a secret that a USAID researcher and technical advisor was in Swaziland a few months ago, 'aggressively pushing news' among Swazi doctors of the recent South Africa study linking circumcision and reduced HIV transmission risk. It is also not a secret that doctors working at FLAS perform circumcisions: it's in the papers, and besides, FLAS doctors gave a refresher course in circumcision earlier this year, supported by USAID money. And it is not hard to find news reports that explicitly link USAID, FLAS and the performance of circumcisions either: try this one from the March 1st Swazi Observer. So the statement from USAID that it had only recently learned of the program sounds a bit farfetched. Perhaps this is why the New York Times piece is entitled, "Swaziland: U.S. Circumcision Funds Termed an Error."

(Thanks to Joseph Lee)


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