The answer to the AIDS epidemic: chopping off foreskins

Dr. Peter Kilmarx works for the division of H.I.V./AIDS prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the chief of epidemiology. Calculating, and then trying to get various numbers to go up or down, is what a lot of government departments do. Kilmarx wants particularly to reduce the number that represents all of the people who contract H.I.V./AIDS. He also thinks that the inner surface of all foreskins is especially permeable to the virus and therefore dangerous.

In a recent New York Times article, Kilmarx said, “What we’ve heard from our consultants is that there would be a benefit for infants from infant circumcision, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Of course, consultants were involved. I bet they’ve cashed the check by now.

The article, by Roni Caryn Rabin, says that after the Second World War 80 percent of baby boys born in the United States had their foreskins removed. I think that sometimes happened a day or two after birth when their signatures were steadier. For years, scientists didn’t think babies could feel pain like scientists can, so baby boys were mutilated without an anesthetic. Now the experts topically drug the babies so they won’t cry.

“We have a significant H.I.V. epidemic in [the United States], and we really need to look carefully at any potential intervention that could be another tool in the toolbox we use to address the epidemic,” Rabin quotes Kilmarx as saying, so we know the doc’s an original thinker.

Most of the arguments against federal health-care legislation are based on distrust of government, especially the feds, which I consider a sign of sanity. Dr. Kilmarx, even if he gets what he wants, for now can only “promote” circumcision as a way to make his assigned number go down. However, when we’re all more dependent on the almighty government (I know I sound kinda wild-eyed-Waco-survivalist here. I’m as surprised as you.), guys like him can write up a rule or dominate a meeting or whatever and the rest of us will have to snap to or go underground because there’s nowhere else to go.

As much as I want universal, single-payer health care, from here it looks like we might get universal health insurance, which must be pretty wonderful for the insurance racket. What good luck it has.

Rabin says that in 1999 only 65 percent of baby boys in the United States had their foreskins cut off, and you know the drugs are better, so that seems like progress.

Recent H.I.V./AIDS studies in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa indicate that “men who were circumcised reduced their infection risk by half.” Of course having the natural covering to perhaps the most sensitive organ on your testosterone-wracked body cut off is likely to change a lot more than your statistical risk of infection if you happen to encounter the virus. And I would anticipate difficulty explaining that to the babies.