African Pastors Lead Crusade for Circumcision
For the past 15 years, George Karambuka, a Pentecostal pastor and health worker, has fought against HIV/AIDS. Like many Kenyan church leaders, Karambuka believed premarital abstinence and marital fidelity were the key to preventing new infections.
But Karambuka, fellow African pastors, and other religious leaders have recently joined a new, controversial effort to stem the deadly virus: circumcising adult African men, by the tens of millions. About 70 percent of men in Africa are already circumcised. So an estimated 20 million uncircumcised adult men, many of them living in sub-Saharan Africa, could potentially benefit from this surgery.
Though skeptics remain, recent research indicates that circumcision helps prevent the transmission of HIV from women to men. Edward C. Green, the renowned HIV/AIDS researcher and author of Broken Promises: How the AIDS Establishment Has Betrayed the Developing World, is one champion of voluntary medical male circumcision. In an interview, Green said, "From a purely public health standpoint circumcision is beneficial, especially in southern Africa where infection rates are the highest.
"We talk about a perfect storm of factors. There are more men and women having multiple and concurrent sex partners in southern Africa than any other place in the world. You have high rates of uncircumcised men, and a couple other factors that together make the perfect storm for high HIV rates."
Green has encouraged religious leaders to support adult male circumcision. "The evidence is so strong and the church is so powerful. It's essential. If more than half of the male population of a country becomes circumcised, and certainly if it went up to closer to 80 or 90 percent, we would see the infection rates go way down. Having the church behind it would be great."
Jesus Was Circumcised
Churches have significantly stepped up their efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. Karambuka had an early encounter with the AIDS epidemic that changed his life. In 1995, Karambuka and his wife were tested less than two years after they married. He was negative, but she tested positive for HIV.
"We were dumbfounded. How did she get the virus, yet I was the first man she slept with all her life, and I was still negative? We did not know how to break the news to friends and relatives.
"We were counseled on how to cope. We continued to live together and even have relations. We had our second child, a baby boy." Two years later, his wife died due to complications from AIDS. The cause of her infection was never determined.
Karambuka then immersed himself in HIV/AIDS ministry. When he first began speaking out about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1998, some in the church shunned him. Others believed he was HIV positive himself. But slowly families sought him out for help in caring for their infected parents and orphaned children. Kenya alone has 1.2 million AIDS orphans.
In time, Karambuka remarried, and his two sons from his first wife are virus-free today. All are active in HIV/AIDS outreach. "One of my greatest moments in life," he said, "is when I see people coming for HIV tests, and those who are found positive adhere to the prescribed treatment, embracing behavior change and living positively." His ministry has three goals:
• Help individuals see their need for HIV testing, treatment, and counseling;
• Integrate the gospel into all levels of care;
• Train Christian leaders to care holistically and through the church.