male circumcision is thought to dramatically decrease the likelhood of hiv infection among men (i don't want to get too scientific-y here, so feel free to investigate my claim on your own), and one of the programs i support here is aimed at providing circumcision among at-risk populations. this week i had a chance to travel to a field site and see our project in action (well, um, all but the sensitive bits, of course). in a remote district in northern tanzania (where circumcision rates are about 25%), we started offering procedures (along with hiv testing and counseling) to any/all males over the age of 18 months.
now, i know what you're thinking: who in their right mind and of their own free will would sign up to get snipped? i thought the same thing. which is why i was shocked to learn that not only is there demand for circumcisions in this area, but men's desire to fling off their lil turtlenecks is so great that the tiny 4-bed surgical center we set up is filled to capacity every day. in less than one month, more than 300 brave volunteers have offered themselves up (so to speak), and the project is racing to scale-up. all this without so much as a community-based ad campaign.
so what's the deal? the very mention of circumcision makes most men wince and clutch at their jewels. so what is it that's driving the demand here? well, i got to talking to some of the boys milling around outside the health center one morning and, it turns out, the answer is very simple: "real men get circumcised".
from what i was able to learn, the process of male circumcision is seen by these boys as a masculine affair, only to be undertaken by the most courageous of souls. once the ball got rolling (sorry again, puns, terrible..), it seems the whole community was caught in a high-stakes game of chicken. the social pressure is particularly strong among the younger ones (conveniently, also our target group), with adolescent boys taunting, almost daring, one another to lay their manhood on the line (geez, seriously, i'm not doing this on purpose).
now this is all i could gather from my brief, non-scientific-y chat with folks at the health center, but i'd say the phenomenon lends itself to closer inspection, which i'll hopefully get to do soon (research i mean..not..inspecting penises...geez...). until then, i'll leave you with some shots of the brave little warriors i met that morning. in case you were wondering, this is what real men look like: