Former US President Bill Clinton called for the world to prepare to tackle the cultural taboos surrounding circumcision Tuesday if, as many expect, trials show that it protects men and the women they sleep with from AIDS.
In a speech to the International Aids conference in Toronto, Canada, Clinton said:
"Should this be shown to be effective, we will have another means to prevent the spread of the disease and to save lives, and we will have a big job to do. It is important that as we leave here we all be prepared for a green light that could have a staggering impact on the male population but that will be frankly a lot of trouble to get done."
Clinton also leaped to the defense of the Bush administration's AIDS efforts on Tuesday, saying the United States is spending more to fight HIV than any other government.
Clinton joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in praising President George W. Bush's President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, saying it has done more good than harm.
Such support for the conservative Bush government was unexpected at the 16th International Conference on AIDS, a meeting held every two years where activists join researchers, funding agencies and aid groups to discuss the pandemic and, usually, denounce most governments for doing too little.
Clinton, whose foundation negotiates cheaper prices for drugs and HIV tests in developing nations, said PEPFAR has done a lot of good, despite a requirement that 33 percent of prevention funding be spent on abstinence-only programs.
"If you take out the 30 percent of the money that has to be spent on that - the other 70 percent is still a whopping amount of money and more money in federal aid than I think anybody else is getting," Clinton told a plenary session of the conference.
That said, Clinton joined the majority of experts who say abstinence-only programs do not work. Better, he said, are programs that include abstinence counseling as part of a range of options.
Other experts have noted that abstinence-only programs have little meaning in societies where young girls and women are forced into early marriage, forced to have sex, or raped.