The campaigns in African countries are doing a lot of damage in the sense that hundreds of thousands of people have already agreed to be circumcised and many people seem to believe the pro-circumcision propaganda. But nowhere near the number expected are agreeing to the operation. And the majority of those being circumcised are not adults, the very people who are most at risk from sexual transmission of HIV, if the propagandists are to be believed. It's mostly teenagers that have been persuaded that the operation will be more difficult or more painful if they wait till they are adults. I'm not sure if that's what they have been told or if it is what they are allowed to believe; either way, what does it mean? Cutting off a healthy piece of flesh is the same whether you are an infant, child, teenager or adult.
Adverse events may be less frequent during infant circumcisions, but that is not a reason to make a decision that could easily be left to the person when they are an adult. After all, the majority of men will probably decide not to be circumcised, which is the best way of eliminating adverse events altogether. It may be objected that circumcision is said to give some protection against some fairly easily avoidable conditions, many of which will not be a risk till adulthood anyway. But this still doesn't make circumcision sound like something that obviously needs to be carried out universally. There doesn't seem to be anything about circumcision that makes it urgent, something that needs to be done to infants or children, or people who have not reached a stage where they can make up their own minds.
One of the most pathetic arguments is that the child should 'look like their father', which doesn't hold much sway in countries where the operation is not yet common. But I've never heard of anyone refusing to circumcise a child whose father was not circumcised just so the child can look like their father. Their father may have a tattoo or a pierced penis, but this would not be permitted on an infant just so he could resemble his father. The argument about resemblance may be more popular in Western countries anyway. But what about the claim that circumcision is 'cleaner'? Dirty finger nails are unhygienic but we don't remove finger nails. Instead, we wash our hands and use a nailbrush. Not that I'm suggesting people use a nailbrush on their penis, but if they have difficulty washing themselves, it's hard to see circumcision alone helping them much.
Of course, there is nothing that could be called debate in countries where people are simply bombarded with publicity; campaigns exhort men to 'stand proud' and that 'wise men make smart choices' (even though the main targets are teenagers; men tend to choose not to be circumcised), etc. The effectiveness of circumcision, and not just against HIV, is presented to people in Kenya and other African countries as if there is no room for doubt, as if it is just another aspect of modern healthcare, like vaccination, giving birth in health facilities and going to a hospital when you are sick. But with infant circumcision there isn't even the pretense of making a choice; the choice is made for you by a parent or by both parents.
The vast majority of males, even in high HIV prevalence countries, do not face much risk of being infected until they are well into their twenties. So there is no excuse for circumcising infants and claiming that it reduces sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Even if it can do so in theory, it will not prevent infections among those who are not sexually active. The fact that the majority of men may choose to remain uncircumcised may worry those who think public health is something that should be imposed on Africans whether they agree or not. But most of us would claim to be against imposing 'public health' measures, whether through lies, trickery, force or by any other means. We would expect informed choice to be involved, even where the intervention has been shown to be beneficial.
So much for the pretense of legitimacy. But what about the 'science'. HIV prevalence is higher among uncircumcised men in some countries (such as Kenya) and higher among circumcised men in other countries (such as Zimbabwe). If HIV is 'scientifically proven', does that mean it should only be introduced in Kenya and other countries where HIV prevalence is lower among circumcised men? And in countries like Zimbabwe, where HIV prevalence is higher among circumcised men, what would the public health experts recommend? They seem to be recommending circumcision, and hence increased HIV transmission. Imposing a public health measure for which there is weak evidence of benefit, without informed consent, is bad enough, but what about imposing a public health measure which the evidence suggests will do harm?
[For more about non-sexual HIV transmission and mass male circumcision, see the Don't Get Stuck With HIV site.]