Western organizations have big, big plans for the penises of millions of African men. They are to be clipped, and in short order. In Tanzania alone there is a plan to circumcise 2.8 million men in the next five years. What those men decide to do with their newly trimmed penises, after the mobile circumcision unit is just a painful memory, will ultimately determine whether or not these campaigns are effective at reducing HIV/AIDs rates in Africa.
A few years ago a friend of mine participated in a program that was designed to use sports to educate children in Africa about the danger of unprotected sex. His plan was to spend several months travelling with a group of students around the Gambia bringing this program to the schools. When he arrived in the capital city Banjul, however, the local authorities made it clear that while they welcomed the project, the only message they would be permitted to leave with the students was they should say no to sex before marriage. No discussion on condom use would be tolerated.
There are two facts about HIV that are difficult to reconcile. The first fact is that the transmission rate of the disease is extremely low; the risk of being infected from an person who has the disease through vaginal intercourse is about one in a thousand or 8-12% per-partner-year.* The second fact is that the disease has an extremely high prevalence among heterosexual women in Sub-Saharan Africa; 40% of pregnant women in Botswana and 25% in South Africa are infected with the disease.