Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ancient Jewish ARite May Save Africa From AIDS: Operation Abraham

Ancient Jewish ARite May Save Africa From AIDS: Operation Abraham

The patriarch Abraham, who complied with the Torah-recorded commandment by God to circumcise himself, his sons Isaac and Ishmael, and all his generations afterward as a sign "in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:13), is the inspiration for a consortium of Israeli doctors who are training circumcision teams in Africa to fight the continental pandemic of AIDS in a project called Operation Abraham.

The United Nations announced in 2007 that the procedure could reduce the rate of the HIV virus transmission by up to 60 percent.

Operation Abraham was launched in 2006 by Dr. Inon Schenker, founder of the Jerusalem AIDS project and respected researcher and senior consultant specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention. The project is currently training counterparts in the AIDS-infested capital of Swaziland, Mbabane, to conduct assembly line-style circumcisions. Death rates are so high in Swaziland that the life expectancy of a citizen has plummeted to the tender age of 31.

In interviews with the Chicago Tribune and a website called HIV/AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Health Integration, Schenker described the dawning of his belief in mass circumcision as a solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, during the wave of Russian aliyah to Israel in the 1990s.

Ritual circumcision, which is ordinarily conducted according to the Torah commandment on the 8th day following the birth of a boy, was performed on tens of thousands of Russian Jewish men and older boys who were barred from taking part in the ancient Jewish tradition while living behind the Iron Curtain and chose to take part in the rite upon emigrating to Israel. According to Schenker, approximately 1,000 circumcisions were conducted every day in five hospitals around Israel during the height of Russian immigration.

"Israel is the only country with such experience in mass adult-male circumcision, and it can respond to a very important humanitarian challenge," Schenker told the Tribune.

Operation Abraham, which employs Israeli doctors and educators – Jews, Muslims, and Christians in partnership with the Jerusalem AIDS project and Hadassah Medical Center - is in high demand to expand its program, with requests for training coming from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, and Lesotho.

Officials from the World Health Organization traveled to Jerusalem in 2006 to gather information on Israel’s expertise in the field, and used Israeli methodology to formulate a male circumcision manual and teaching course which are now part of government male circumcision programs in several African countries.

Operation Abraham's pilot project was finalized in February 2008, and was submitted for replication and expansion in the summer. Three training teams have already conducted training seminars in Swaziland this year.

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