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Successful Penis Transplant Means Good News For Victims of Botched Circumcisions

In December of 2014, the first successful penis transplant was performed on a 21-year-old man in South Africa under the supervision of Professor Andre van der Merwe. The group of surgeons led by van der Merwe of Stellenbosch University in Cape Town were able to successfully transplant a penis to a man who had lost his penis three years ago after a ritual circumcision led to a case of gangrene.

Reportedly, the surgeons say that cosmetically, the colour match is very good for the patient. Although shy about the entire scenario, it was expected that the patient would be fully recovered and fully functional within two years, but the world was updated recently with news that the unidentified man recovered extremely quickly. In fact, Dr. Andre van der Merwe notified BBC News recently that the patient’s girlfriend is currently about four months pregnant, meaning that the transplant was 100% successful. Not only was it aesthetically functional, but the patient’s testicles and sperm were unaffected and that after regaining urinary and reproductive functions, was successfully able to become sexually active again.

The success of this surgery is especially important within South Africa. Because of the success of this transplant, it is evident that other penis transplants will work. Although for the majority of the world, this does not seem like a necessary thing, in South Africa, it is actually a really big deal. Too many men suffer the loss of their penises within the country and surrounding areas due to traditional circumcisions going awry leading to gangrene and other issues which end up in the removal of the penis. Something that is not only damaging to a man’s self esteem, but also within communities and cultures that often put a lot of value on a man’s ability to marry and produce a family.

Within Africa, the topic of female circumcision is a hot button issue that often has activists worldwide picketing at their local parliaments. But rarely is male circumcision and the effects of that ever thought of. Unfortunately, botched male circumcisions are becoming a health crisis in South Africa. In fact, it is around this time of year in some parts of South Africa that many men and boys will head to secluded huts in remote villages for the circumcision rituals that, upon completion, will lead them into manhood.

This is absolutely critical in some groups, like the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape, where if a boy flees a circumcision ritual, he risks being beaten or shamed. Unfortunately, with the rise of botched circumcisions, more men are losing parts of or the entirety of their penises, which also has implications on their self-esteem and within their communities because they cannot reproduce. Many men who attempt to speak out against unsafe circumcision risk being an “impipi,” (traitor in Xhosa) which results in being beaten and often chased out of their villages.

With the success of this penis transplant, I hope that other men who have suffered the loss of their penis will be able to participate and hopefully be able to lead relatively normal lives. As a woman, I cannot imagine the feelings of the men involved, however, I can only assume that it is incredibly emasculating and heart-breaking. I also feel as if this rise in botched circumcisions could have a huge effect on communities within South Africa.

That being said, I do not necessarily think that anti-circumcision campaigns are in order. I know that feminists and activists in the Western world are greatly against female circumcision (or as I prefer to call it, female genital alteration), and although I do not agree with circumcision of any kind, I do believe that if people and communities choose to practice circumcision, it is something that they should be able to do. However, my caveat is this, ensure that those wishing to be circumcised are able to do so in a safe, hygienic environment to reduce the risks of botched circumcisions. I also realize that this is a lot easier said than done for a plethora of reasons that I could not even begin to list. Either way, while efforts are made to prevent further botched circumcisions, I am happy that there is a successful option for men who have endured botched circumcisions and hope that all future penis transplants work as successfully for the patients.

And to the patient whose girlfriend is pregnant, congratulations!

About Emily Hersey

Emily Hersey
Emily is an African Studies and History student who loves reading, the gym, hip hop and horses. If she's not working on her latest research project, she's definitely working towards her next trip to South Africa and doing her Master's degree there. Contact Emily: emily.hersey@youthindependent.com