Israeli Circumcision Experts Head to Africa

Techniques Honed With Russians Helps Continent Fight AIDS

Celebrating Circumcision: Israeli health professionals celebrate with South African colleagues after completing a training mission.
Courtesy of Operation Abraham
Celebrating Circumcision: Israeli health professionals celebrate with South African colleagues after completing a training mission.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published December 26, 2011, issue of January 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When hundreds of thousands of immigrants flocked to Israel from the Former Soviet Union, they never dreamed that their absorption process could prove a missing link in a massive plan to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.

At the height of the wave of arrivals in the 1990s, Israeli doctors came face to face with a huge backlog of immigrants demanding circumcision. They struggled to keep up, but gained critical expertise in circumcising large numbers of adults.

Nearly two decades later, those skills are proving crucial in the fight against AIDS thousands of miles away, in Africa. In the past five years, doctors have become convinced that circumcision dramatically helps to reduce contraction of HIV/AIDS. International prevention agencies believe that every five to 15 circumcisions performed in Africa will prevent one person contracting HIV/AIDS.

“Any Tom, Dick or Harry with basic surgical training can do two or three circumcisions a day,” said Douglas Ross, CEO of St Mary’s Catholic Mission Hospital Trust in Durban, South Africa, where doctors have received training from an Israeli consortium dubbed Operation Abraham. “But to be able to do 40, you need specialist training.”

“What I got from Operation Abraham [is] tailor-made for the South African setting,” added Ross, after a two-week-long Israeli medical mission departed in November.

Encouraged by the results on the ground, the United Nations and United States recently announced a five-year plan to radically increase circumcision in the HIV-stricken continent. Working with African governments, they have so far circumcised 600,000 men. They are aiming to perform 20 million new adult circumcisions over the course of the plan.

The challenge is preparing doctors to cope with the fast flow of patients that the plan will bring. That is where Israeli medics come in. Operation Abraham, a volunteer outreach initiative, is sending doctors from Israel to different corners of Africa to train local doctors like those at St. Mary’s.

“Before the aliyah from the Former Soviet Union, we in Israel had very little experience with adult circumcision, but all of a sudden in the 1990s we became experts,” said Eitan Gross, medical director of the Operation Abraham outreach initiative. “There is no other place in the world where within a few years they performed 100,000 male circumcisions, so we are keen to share our knowledge.”

Since Gross’s nonprofit, a consortium of nine Israeli medical bodies including the Jerusalem AIDS Project and the Hadassah Medical Organization, was established in 2007, it has worked in five African countries.

In 2008, the non-profit was invited to give a workshop in Senegal. Afterwards, the Senegal Ministry of Health and the Senegal Medical Association became partners in Operation Abraham.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.