Ethical considerations surrounding Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) in South Africa as an intervention for HIV prevention

May, Robyn Walker (2014-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In efforts to combat the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, the WHO/UNAIDS published the Joint Strategic Action Framework to Accelerate the Scale-up of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention in Eastern and Southern Africa which outlines the aim of a VMMC (voluntary medical male circumcision) prevalence of 80% among males 15-49 year old in 14 countries by 2016 (WHO/UNAIDS, 2011). In line with this directive, South Africa has launched a national VMMC campaign. However, a lot of ethical issues remain unaddressed surrounding VMMC. These can be categorised as individual considerations (autonomy and informed consent; non-maleficence and unintentional, unforeseen harm; risk compensation in circumcised men; risk of undermining current HIV prevention strategies; age of circumcision), community considerations (cultural considerations; justice: the gender divide and female subjugation; distributive justice; social stigmatisation as a result of VMMC), national considerations (adverse events and complications on a macro level; cost saving and unforeseen expenditure of VMMC; the implications of international funding for VMMC; the public health ethics of VMMC; risks of “de-medicalisation” of a surgical procedure; the ever present danger of corruption), global considerations (female genital mutilation; non-sexual HIV transmission; a dangerous shift in focus) and other considerations (a statistical perspective on VMMC; circumcision technique; lack of ethical awareness; dealing with medical uncertainty). Finally, I shall consider neonatal circumcision, which is in itself a contentious issue, and has no role to play in VMMC. The unresolved issues raised by these ethical considerations cast doubt on the moral status of VMMC and I conclude that the VMMC campaign as it stands in South Africa currently is morally indefensible. There is, undeniably, a pressing need for HIV/AIDS prevention strategies in South Africa and other developing countries but the role of circumcision has been overemphasised to the detriment of more holistic approaches. While there are no easy answers to any of the ethical dilemmas presented in this thesis, it is imperative to raise ethical awareness surrounding VMMC.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In ‘n poging om die globale MIV/VIGS-pandemie te bekamp, het die WHO/UNAIDS in 2007 die Joint Strategic Action Framework to Accelerate the Scale-up of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention in Eastern and Southern Africa gepubliseer wat ‘n aksie-plan is wat poog om ‘n voorkoms van VMMC (vrywillige mediese manlike besnyding) van 80% in 14 lande onder 15-49 jaar oue mans in 2016 (WHO/UNAIDS, 2011) te bewekstellig. In ooreenstemming met dié riglyn, het Suid-Afrika 'n nasionale VMMC veldtog geinnisiëer. Maar baie van die etiese kwessies verbonde aan VMMC is nie bevredigend aangespreek nie. Hierdie kwessies kan geklassifiseer word onder individuele oorwegings (outonomie en ingeligte toestemming; nie-kwaadwilligheid en onbedoelde, onvoorsiene skade; risiko vergoeding in mans wat besny is; VMMC ondermyn die huidige MIV-voorkoming strategieë; ouderdom van besnyding), gemeenskap oorwegings (kulturele oorwegings; geregtigheid: die oorweging van die geslag verdeel en vroulike onderdanigheid; distributiewe geregtigheid; sosiale stigmatisering as gevolg van VMMC), nasionale oorwegings (newe-effekte en komplikasies op 'n makro-vlak; kostebesparing en onvoorsiene uitgawes van VMMC; die implikasies van internasionale befondsing vir VMMC; die openbare gesondheid etiek van VMMC; risiko's van "de-medikalisering" van 'n chirurgiese procedure; die alomteenwoordige gevaar van korrupsie), globale oorwegings (vroulike genitale verminking; nie-seksuele oordrag van MIV; 'n gevaarlike verskuiwing in fokus) en ander oorwegings ('n statistiese perspektief op VMMC; besnyding tegniek; die gebrek aan bewustheid van hierdie etiese kwessies; die hantering van mediese onsekerheid) bespreek. Ten slotte, sal ek neonatale besnyding ondersoek, wat op sigself 'n omstrede kwessie is, en geen rol behoort te speel in VMMC nie. Die onopgeloste kwessies wat deur hierdie etiese oorwegings aan die lig gebring word veroorsaak twyfel oor die morele status van VMMC. Ek lei dus af dat die VMMC veldtog soos dit tans bestaan in Suid-Afrika moreel onverdedigbaar is. Daar is ongetwyfeld 'n dringende behoefte vir MIV/VIGS- voorkoming strategieë in Suid-Afrika en ander ontwikkelende lande, maar die rol van besnydenis word oorbeklemtoon ten koste van ‘n meer holistiese benadering. Hoewel daar geen maklike antwoorde op enige van die etiese dilemmas wat in hierdie skripsie verken is nie, is dit noodsaaklik dat etiese bewustheid rondom VMMC verhoog word.

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