Tweetography: making cuts to save lives?

Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell

The XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna concluded on July 23. Twitter buzzed all week with updates from speakers and attendees, and comments from those who, like me, didn’t attend but followed from home.

The biggest stories of the week? Undoubtedly at the top are the speeches of Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. They each championed male circumcision as an effective method for preventing HIV transmission.

Some tweeters expressed relief at finally seeing circumcision receive serious attention as a possible preventive measure:

GLOBALHEALTHorg: Male circumcision, proven HIV prevention strategy, finally gets some attention at #AIDS2010, http://tinyurl.com/37ha544

Others, however, doubt recent findings, particularly from activist groups Intact America and the International Coalition for Genital Integrity:

Intactamerica: New study shows circumcision would not halt spread of HIV in the United States: http://tinyurl.com/2evl3cv #i2 #AIDS2010 #humanrights #AIDS

Tweeters representing these groups contend that males who sign up for circumcision are under the impression they no longer need to use a condom.

Dan Bollinger, a spokesman for ICGI, argues that without “fully informed consent,” circumcisions are unethical, even for adult males. But no one is talking about duping men into the surgery. Rather, if the problem is simply a misunderstanding of necessary precautions and possible health benefits, then isn’t the solution more information and more options, not less?

In a press release from this week, Intact America scorches a straw man by claiming that the circumcision solution is just another desperate attempt to find a “silver bullet”.

But the speeches of Clinton and Gates – not to mention the many roundtables, conversations, research presentations, and blog posts of countless others – also highlighted major advances in a microbicidal gel that women apply before and after sex:

Gatesfoundation: microbicide trial: A turning point for women in #HIV prevention: http://nyti.ms/cufJ7B #AIDS2010

Everyone would love a “silver bullet”. In the meantime, some practical, implementable solutions might be the gold standard.

Graham Hough-Cornwell is an M.A. candidate in Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University and a Research Assistant for the Elliott School’s Culture in Global Affairs program.

Image: “Teaching scouts about HIV/AIDS 15,” from flickr user hdptcar, licensed with Creative Commons.

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