So a friend contacts me about a recent "study" published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
"You've got to blast it on your blog!" he says.
So I skim through the article and my first thought is "meh."
I mean, so what. Yet another junk study that adds nothing of any actual value to science or medical literature, and serves as nothing more than another chance to repeat the same dubious claim, as always, that "circumcision prevents HIV transmission by 60%," and tries to pretend as if it were bygone conclusion. (Researchers can't actually prove that circumcision prevents HIV transmission AT ALL, let alone by 60%.)
What can I say about one more trash "study" that I haven't already said about all the rest? Only just two or three posts ago I posted about promoters using football to coerce teenagers into getting circumcised. They were using bribery as far back as 2011. So what's new to be seen here?
And then he points to the fact that this so-called "study" was actually the lead article in the latest edition of JAMA.
I look again and think "Holy smokes, he's right!" So I decide to take a closer look. (Readers can read the abstract here.)
The "study" is titled:
"Effect of Providing Conditional Economic Compensation on Uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision in Kenya: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
The title tries very little to hide the fact that the article is only extremely remotely related to medicine. The long and the short of it is, they're trying to see if bribing men will get them to go get circumcised. I've already said this, but the only reason this can be is because "circumcision prevents HIV by 60%" simply isn't selling. African men aren't stupid.
"Gee, if I still have to wear condoms, what's the whole point? NO THANKS!"
More from the abstract:
Objective To determine whether small economic incentives could increase circumcision prevalence by addressing reported economic barriers to VMMC and behavioral factors such as present-biased decision making.
Translation: Let's see how many men we can bribe into getting circumcised.
It should be noted here that the "researchers," if they can even be called that, are not actually interested in any behavioral factors that matter. They're not interested in seeing if the men are diligently using condoms, for example. (Or if they are not, and hope not to following their circumcisions.) They're not interested in how many sexual partners they have on a weekly or monthly basis, or if they are faithful to one partner or their spouse. Maybe the men feel that since they are faithful, and/or use condoms consistently, they don't feel they ought to be circumcised. And, they would be right.
Also not important to the "researchers," and this would actually be relevant from a "how many men can we dupe into getting circumcised" standpoint; what background were the men from? Did they come from Muslim or tribal backgrounds where circumcision is a social norm, if not expectation? How many were from tribes where NOT being circumcised is important? This is a very important factor; it's not "news" if men who would be circumcised at an initiation school anyway agreed to get circumcised for money in a clinical setting. How many men were actually convinced to get circumcised by financial incentive? How many were already going to get circumcised, but joined the program for the cash?
Only one behavioral factor seems to be important here: What will get the men to comply with having part of their penis cut off?
Design, Setting, and Participants Randomized clinical trial conducted between June 22, 2013, and February 4, 2014, among 1504 uncircumcised men aged 25 to 49 years in Nyanza region, Kenya. VMMC services were provided free of charge and participants were randomized to 1 of 3 intervention groups or a control group.
"Randomized clinical trial" for what, exactly? What drug or form of medical treatment was being tested for efficacy? It seems the only thing "clinical" about this so-called "trial" was the fact that it was conducted by doctors at clinics, and the only thing "random" about it was what group the men would land in. All of them were offered circumcision.
Interventions Participants in the 3 intervention groups received varying amounts of compensation conditional on undergoing circumcision at 1 of 9 study clinics within 2 months of enrollment. Compensation took the form of food vouchers worth 200 Kenya shillings (≈US $2.50), 700 Kenya shillings (≈US $8.75), or 1200 Kenya shillings (≈US $15.00), which reflected a portion of transportation costs and lost wages associated with getting circumcised. The control group received no compensation.
In short, groups were offered different amounts of money in increasing increments; the control group was there to see how many men could be conned into needless surgery for nothing.
Main Outcomes and Measures VMMC uptake within 2 months.
That men would submit for circumcision was an expected outcome; the study was not conducted to measure "whether or not" financial incentive worked in convincing men to get circumcised, but "how well."
Results Analysis of data for 1502 participants with complete data showed that VMMC uptake within 2 months was higher in the US $8.75 group (6.6%; 95% CI, 4.3%-9.5% [25 of 381]) and the US $15.00 group (9.0%; 95% CI, 6.3%-12.4% [34 of 377]) than in the US $2.50 group (1.9%; 95% CI, 0.8%-3.8% [7 of 374]) and the control group (1.6%; 95% CI, 0.6%-3.5% [6 of 370]). In logistic regression analysis, the US $8.75 group had significantly higher VMMC uptake than the control group (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 4.3; 95% CI, 1.7-10.7), as did the US $15.00 group (AOR 6.2; 95% CI, 2.6-15.0). Effect sizes for the US $8.75 and US $15.00 groups did not differ significantly (P = .20).
Conclusions and Relevance Among uncircumcised men in Kenya, compensation in the form of food vouchers worth approximately US $8.75 or US $15.00, compared with lesser or no compensation, resulted in a modest increase in the prevalence of circumcision after 2 months. The effects of more intense promotion or longer implementation require further investigation.
Or, in short, the more money you shell out, the more men are likely to agree to having part of their penis cut off. (Surprise, surprise...)
There are so many things wrong with this "study," I don't even know where to start.
How can this even be called "research" or a "study?" It's not looking to contribute anything of actual value to science or medicine. This "study" is about nothing, on a topic that isn't even remotely related to medicine, yet it gets the lead spot in JAMA. It proves nothing more than that, the more money you offer men, the more likely they'll be to do what you ask them to, in this case, submit to non-therapeutic surgery.
Is it even ethical to conduct this kind of "study" on financial incentive in a setting where food, water and other supplies are scarce? Wouldn't most men say yes to money in situations where it is scarce, regardless of how they feel about HIV prevention and the proper use of condoms? How ethical is it to exploit the financial situations of people who are already in dire poverty, to offer them a dubious form of "protection" from HIV, which is already far superseded by less expensive, less invasive, more effective means?
As I've told my friend, what more can I say?
This is just one more in a long line of other "studies" that look for the same thing; "Acceptance. Feasibility. Demand creation." The way so-called "researchers" are trying to pass their brainwashing strategies as legitimate "science" and "research" is a complete disgrace.
It is outrageous, despicable and disgraceful that no one at JAMA sees a problem with this.
How was this "study" approved to go on? Who agreed to fund it? Why hasn't there been any kind of public outcry from respected medical communities around the world deploring this horrendous conduct? Who at the IRB approved this unethical "study?" What was the editor of JAMA thinking when he decided to make this the "lead study?" Is the AMA going to voice any complaint?
Lies are being spread. Garbage is being passed off as "research" and being used to shape public health policy. This is not the first "study" of this kind. They have been going on since the WHO endorsed circumcision as "HIV prevention." Why does it seem respected medical organizations are not concerned that this is going on?
Why isn't the WHO concerned that their endorsement of circumcision as "HIV prevention" is resulting in horrendous misconduct on the part of "researchers," circumcision promoters and even amongst African tribes themselves?
It ought to concern respected medical organizations around the world that "research" on what is essentially the financial coercion of men living in poverty to comply with non-therapeutic surgery was published as the leading article in a medical journal of a respected medical organization.
Readers are encouraged to write to representatives at medical organizations in their respective countries, as this is an issue that needs to be addressed. American readers, you are encouraged to write to the AMA and the editors of their JAMA journal. Other medical organizations need to be concerned that this is what passes today as legitimate "research."
I repeat, the WHO must be made aware of this, and respected medical organizations and influential doctors and researchers ought to call for the WHO to withdraw their endorsement of male genital mutilation as HIV prevention.
Human experimentation in Africa must end, and the rights of non-consenting individuals ought to be respected.
How about we give Africans food and water, and not make genital mutilation a condition for not dying of hunger or thirst?
Readers, please express your outrage to the AMA, JAMA and other respected medical organizations about this so-called "research" happening in Africa today. Let them know that this is NOT acceptable conduct for people that call themselves "researchers" and/or medical professionals.
MASS CIRCUMCISION CAMPAIGNS: The Emasculation and Harassment of Africa
AFRICA: Creating Circumcision "Volunteers"
Where Circumcision Doesn't Prevent HIV