Sir Roger Moore, the British-born star of seven James Bond films, will donate the fee he earns from appearing at the fourth International Eilat Chamber Music Festival to a UNICEF program where Israeli expertise is used in training doctors to perform male circumcision as a way of reducing AIDS transmission in Africa.
Moore, 81, is narrating Saint Saens' orchestral character piece Carnival of the Animals at the festival (www.eilat-festival.com), now under way at the Herod's Forum hotel.
Some 80 musicians from around the world are taking part, performing 14 concerts in six days. Master classes are also being held.
Since 1991, Moore has been a UNICEF "goodwill ambassador" promoting women's and children's health. He was inspired to work for UNICEF by the late actress Audrey Hepburn, herself a "goodwill ambassador," after being deeply moved by India's poverty while filming a movie there.
In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Moore said he had a growing interest in the importance of health and disease prevention, and said his visit was meant to promote HIV awareness and education.
"Prevention is the best cure of disease," he added.
He disclosed that he himself had been circumcised at the initiative of his parents when he was eight.
"It was the unkindest cut of all," he joked. "But really, it was for hygienic reasons. My two sons [now 42 and 35] have been circumcised as well. They have never complained."
In the spring of 2007, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF recognized "compelling evidence" that adult male circumcision was an "additional important intervention" that could reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
There are several biological explanations as to why circumcision reduces the risk of infection.
Removal of the foreskin minimizes the ability of the AIDS virus to penetrate the skin of the penis.
In addition, Langerhans cells and other special immunological bodies are located on the underside of the foreskin and are targeted by the virus. It may also be that tiny lacerations on the inner surface of the foreskin during sex allow the AIDS virus easier entry.
Sixteen months ago, a three-member Israeli medical delegation traveled to Swaziland to teach local surgeons how to circumcise men.
The first of three such missions to Africa - teams have also traveled to Kenya and Zambia, and will soon go to Uganda - Swaziland was chosen to launch the campaign because its population had a very low male circumcision rate and a 40 percent rate of HIV infection - among the world's highest.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have, through their family foundation, donated $18 million to fund circumcision among adult men in Kenya to fight the spread of HIV.
Moore said he had met Bill and Melinda Gates at the UN and had been very impressed by their philanthropy to fight infectious diseases.
He added that until recently, he had been largely unaware of the role that circumcision can have in preventing the spread of AIDS.
"I have since read up about the disease a lot, and I appreciate Israel's input in prevention," he said.
Moore has visited African countries devastated by AIDS and said he hoped a vaccine would soon be available.
In the meantime, abstention, safe sex, male circumcision and anti-retroviral drugs were the only hope, he said.
Scientific studies have shown that male circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa could prevent 5.7 million new cases of HIV infection and three million deaths over the next two decades.
Male circumcision is also thought to reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
Public health education experts at JAIP have warned that African men and their female partners should not develop a "false sense of security" and engage is high-risk sexual behaviors that could neutralize the protection offered by circumcision.
Together with experts from UN organizations, they say that male circumcision should always be considered part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package that includes HIV testing and counselling services, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, the promotion of safer sex practices, and the provision of condoms and diaphragms, with instruction as to their correct and consistent use.
Moore arrived in Israel last week with his wife, Kristina Tholstrup. It is her first visit to the country and his first in four decades.
"Although I received an open letter from some organization advising me not to visit Israel, I didn't pay attention," he said, adding that he recommends visiting and already hopes to return.
He was amazed at how the country - especially its capital - has grown and developed.
He added that he had fond memories of a personal tour of Jerusalem he had been given by its late mayor, Teddy Kollek, and was amazed this time around by the view of the Old City.
However, Saturday's extremely wet and cold weather prevented him from going to the top of Massada.