HIV prevention: Making male circumcision the 'right' tool for the job

Kirsten Bell

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In recent years, HIV/AIDS programming has been transformed by an ostensibly 'new' procedure: male circumcision. This article examines the rise of male circumcision as the 'right' HIV prevention tool. Treating this controversial topic as a 'matter of concern' rather than a 'matter of fact', I examine the reasons why male circumcision came to be seen as a partial solution to the problem of HIV transmission in the twenty-first century and to what effect. Grounded in a close reading of the primary literature, I suggest that the embrace of male circumcision in HIV prevention must be understood in relation to three factors: (1) the rise of evidence-based medicine as the dominant paradigm for conceptualising medical knowledge, (2) the fraught politics of HIV/AIDS research and funding, which made the possibility of a biomedical intervention attractive and (3) underlying assumptions about the nature of African 'culture' and 'sexuality'. I conclude by stressing the need to expand the parameters of the debate beyond the current polarised landscape, which presents us with a problematic either/or scenario regarding the efficacy of male circumcision.

© 2014, [Taylor Francis online]. The attached document is an author produced version of a paper published in Global Public Health uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link below. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-572
Number of pages21
JournalGlobal public health
Issue number5-6
Early online date10 Apr 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Apr 2014


  • Circumcision, Male
  • Global Health
  • HIV Infections
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral
  • Journal Article
  • Review

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