A fact-checking study by the US CDC has confirmed as false previous data claiming ridiculously high male circumcision rates in Kenya’s HIV control programme.
The verification exercise involved physically examining study respondents for actual circumcision to avoid being presented with fakes.
“We have demonstrated that the initial programme data published in 2018 provided inflated estimates of male circumcision prevalence,” says the fact-checking report.
The report published on Thursday (July 15, 2021) in the journal Plos One says the fact-checking had been provoked by conflicting reports of huge success and yet persistent high demand suggesting a need for more funding.
The 2018 report had claimed success rates of more than 100 per cent in Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori counties.
PEPFAR in Kenya
However, the new data shows estimation had been puffed by between 25 per cent and 33 per cent in the 10-14 year age group and about 12 per cent in the 15-29 year age group.
For example, the 2018 data had indicated 180 per cent coverage in Homa Bay County, while the new report puts this at 75.6 per cent.
Last year the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), who is funding the programme, suspended the circumcision of boys under 15 years.
This action followed a study by several US agencies and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) showing that some non-governmental bodies have been recruiting underage boys for circumcision by bribing them in order to meet high targets and secure funding.
The information also showed more than 36 boys and infants had lost their manhood in the 15 African countries implementing the project with the highest casualties being in Kenya and South Africa.
Most of the injuries were due to the use of inappropriate forceps that have been banned since 2014. The forceps are known to be quicker than recommended alternatives, which means more cuts and hence more funding.
“These boys have suffered injuries that may cause permanent disfigurement, functional impairment, and lifelong psychological impact,” said the Kemri study.
To make sure they were not shown fakes, the fact-checkers in the new study had insisted on physical examinations to make sure the study participants had actually been circumcised.
“Overall, 95.5 per cent, 3,410 of the participating 3,569 study respondents consented to and were examined for physical verification of their circumcision status,” says the report.
Lucrative Supply Pipeline
The US, whose private sector is a major player in the lucrative HIV biomedical supply pipeline has characteristically remained vague on the reasons or identities of those behind the data manipulation or causing harm to the young boys.
“We did not get evidence confirming that project data in Kenya were intentionally exaggerated,” the CDC-Nairobi had told this writer after the 2018 report. A similar trend is also evident in the current fact-checking report.
Reasons for the overestimation, the new report says remain unclear. “Regardless of the basis for the previous overestimates, this survey has provided up to date male circumcision prevalence data which form a good reference for setting realistic future targets,” says the fact-checkers.
Others in the study included Kenya’s Ministry of Health, US CDC Nairobi and Atlanta, Jhpiego, Nairobi and Maryland US and USAID Nairobi.
By Gatonye Gathura
The study is available here: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254140