Although I largely ignore Michael Gerson’s columns because I know it’s going to be feel-good, big government social conservatism, I will defend him on one point from his column today defending ousted PEPFAR coordinator Dr. Mark Dybul and condemning the method of his ouster. Primarily, Gerson states:
A few radical “reproductive rights” groups — the fringe of a fringe — accused Dybul of advocating “abstinence only” programs in AIDS prevention. It was always a lie. Dybul consistently supported comprehensive prevention efforts that include abstinence, faithfulness and condom use — the approach that African governments themselves developed. …
I conducted a quick search to find proof on what I know about PEPFAR and found this quote from the New York Times, from December 14, 2006:
[Dr. Dybul] also warned that it was only one new weapon in the fight, adding, ”Prevention efforts must reinforce the A.B.C. approach — abstain, be faithful, and correct and consistent use of condoms.”
So Gerson’s point that Dr Dybul is being unfairly attacked on these grounds is accurate.
However, the “it” Dr. Dybul refers derives from the previous paragraph in the New York Times story, an angle I knew I’d find in my research.
Dr. Mark Dybul, executive director of President Bush’s $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said in a statement that his agency ”will support implementation of safe medical male circumcision for H.I.V./AIDS prevention” if world health agencies recommend it.
From PEPFAR’s male circumcision brief, updated January 2009, here is a sample of PEPFAR’s work:
In Zambia, PEPFAR continues to support a broad approach to prevention which includes male circumcision. Safe and effective medical male circumcision services are now provided at various sites to reduce new HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases. Working with the Ministry of Health, male circumcision is offered at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka and the General Hospital in Livingstone, as well as through satellite facilities. PEPFAR is also supporting training, public health evaluation on neonatal circumcision, and the development of comprehensive prevention messages to accompany medical male circumcision services. [emphasis added]
This is an action overseen by an individual Gerson describes as “a great humanitarian physician — a man of faith and conscience”. I have no reason to question the second claim, but one and three are demonstrably false.
I do not expect anything better from the Obama administration’s eventual pick to replace Dr. Dybul. Always remember that when public health officials talk about voluntary, adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary, adult. Never.