Actress Debra Messing, better known as Grace Adler in the TV sitcom "Will & Grace," told members of Congress last week that circumcision was a key to reducing HIV/AIDs. Messing testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on behalf of PSI, a global health organization, after she returned from Zimbabwe which has an aggressive circumcision program.
Here's what Messing told legislators:
"I would like to tell you today about two prevention tools that could make a difference if there is continued investment: male circumcision and HIV testing and counseling.
"First, voluntary adult male circumcision. There is now strong evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by about 60 percent, yet only about one in ten Zimbabwean adult men are circumcised. PSI and its partners run circumcision clinics in Zimbabwe and other countries, with support from PEPFAR and other donors.
"I was invited to observe the procedure, which is free to the client, completely voluntary and according to the young man I spoke with who underwent the procedure, painless. The cost of the procedure at that clinic—including follow-up care and counseling—is about $40 U.S. dollars.
UNAIDS and the World Health Organization have issued guidance stating that male circumcision should be recognized as an important intervention to reduce the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men.
"Even with no demand creation, the clinic I visited serves upwards of 35 clients per day. It is estimated that if male circumcision is scaled up to reach 80 percent of adult and newborn males in Zimbabwe by 2015, it could avert almost 750,000 adult HIV infections—that equals 40 percent of all new HIV infections that would have occurred otherwise without the intervention—and it could yield total net savings of $3.8 billion U.S. dollars between 2009 and 2025. Male circumcision programs get robust support from the U.S. government in Zimbabwe and other countries, but greater resources would yield greater results."
Zimbabwe does have a massive commitment to circumcise 1.3 million males over the next few years, and the country is beginning efforts to encourage newborn circumcision. In the long run, countries recognize that achieving universal 100% circumcision rates is best obtained by circumcising baby boys before the leave the hospital.
What is ironic to me is that while Messing thanks Congress for its "robust support" for the male circumcision programs in Africa, nobody says anything about America? It's time for government leaders to speak out with just the same passion on the value of circumcising every male in this country.