Activists want Bill Gates to end circumcision funding in Africa
The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project's Glen Callender is protesting today's TED Talk by Bill Gates, whose foundation's mass-circumcision funding is sparking debate over whether it's an effective way to stop HIV/AIDS. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
Bill Gates is the most highly anticipated speaker at the TED Talks in Vancouver on Tuesday – but the Microsoft founder's philanthropic work is being protested by “pro-foreskin” activists.
The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project has criticized a program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which it said granted more than $160 million for 14 African countries' HIV/AIDS prevention programs encouraging male circumcision.
“Circumcision does not prevent HIV,” said group founder Glen Callender. “Bill Gates means well, there certainly are things he's doing that I fully support, but I do not agree that circumcision is a valid or reasonable approach for 21st-century AIDS prevention.”
He argued circumcision can create scar tissue and remove many sensory nerves in the penis.
For University of B.C. Medicine's Dr. Richard Lester, the evidence linking HIV and circumcision is nearly unanimous – “as clear as you really can get in medical research,” the division of infectious diseases researcher said.
“It's actually one of the best-proven interventions for reducing HIV/AIDS transmission,” he said. Although the reasons aren't “exactly completely understood,” accepted theories include foreskin cells being more susceptible to HIV, and also their ability to hold fluids longer.
Lester acknowledged controversy exists over such programs.
“There's a reasonable debate about whether it (circumcision) should be recommended broadly,” he said. “It should be offered as an informed choice, but not pushed on people as a program.”
He added “multiple strategies” are needed to combat a pandemic that “at this point is just suppressed, not cured.”
Last year Callender was among several dozen people protesting Oprah Winfrey's speech in Vancouver over beauty products the talk-show queen endorsed that were made with human foreskin cells.
“I am hoping someday to do a TED Talk myself,” Callender said. The Gates Foundation couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.