December 4, 2007


SA Clinicians Society Skills-building Workshop/Debate 6 June 2007

Featuring Tim Quinlan, Alan Whiteside, Neil Martinson, Thulani Grenville-Gray and chaired by Francois Venter

A vibrant and important debate on mass medical male circumcision as an HIV prevention intervention was hosted by the SA Clinicians Society during the Third SA AIDS Conference held in Durban in June.

Chaired by the SACS President, Dr Francois Venter, a panel of HIV/AIDS researchers and practitioners from biomedical and social science disciplines debated the question of whether or not the body of scientific evidence on the protective attributes of male circumcision justifies introducing a policy for the procedure to be offered routinely for baby boys at all public health facilities in South Africa.

Advocating strongly for such a policy were Dr Neil Martinson of Wits Universitys Perinatal HIV Research Unit, and Prof Alan Whiteside, Director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Prof Tim Quinlan, HEARDs Research Director, argued against the notion, whilst Thulani Grenville-Grey, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor and prevention campaign consultant, presented a selection of insights distilled from the ground, drawing on commentary from men and women he surveyed informally.

The debate was characterised by balanced set of perspectives, with due seriousness in considering statistical data, lightened with quirky observations by the panelists and delegates. The conversation was broadened and deepened by rich input from the audience on how and why planning around a mass male circumcision programme should address various cross-cutting cultural and messaging issues.

Valuable viewpoints were expressed around the need to recognise indigenous knowledge especially the role of traditional practitioners alongside modern medical science in this field. Many felt that the journey to effective solutions for prevention of HIV transmission includes male circumcision, but that this will entail an unfolding path of holistic and collaborative discovery, rather than a conclusive set of technical data.

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