Overwhelming 5 000 men opt for popular scalp

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Male circumcision has become so popular in Zimbabwe that all targets that have been set since the inception of the programme last year, have been surpassed.

About 5 000 men, almost twice the targeted number, have gone under the knife since government launched the free circumcision programme mid-2009 as a new weapon to fight the ravaging Aids pandemic.

The programme aims at having at least three million men, about 80% of Zimbabwe’s young men circumcised by 2012.

A particular target is the country’s military where the HIV pandemic is said to have wrecked havoc.

There were plans to roll out the programme to new-born babies as well.

According to the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Henry Madzorera, research has proved that circumcision, the removal of the foreskin from the penis, reduces the risk of man contracting HIV by 60%.

Zimbabwe has successfully grappled with a staggering 25,8 % HIV prevalence bringing it down to the current 13.7 % through vigorous prevention campaigns including abstinence, faithfulness and the use of condoms.

Circumcision appears to have taken over as the key weapon and it has proved very popular.

Health officials in Bulawayo last week announced another ‘broken target ceiling’ with more than 1 700 men turning up for the knife – a whole 700 more than the 1 000 that had been targeted for the six months between September 2009 and this month.

National HIV prevention coordinator, Gertrude Ncube told NewsDay at a Male Circumcision (MC) awareness workshop that the province had surpassed its circumcision target by 70%.

“We have received more than an overwhelming response,” said Ncube.

“We had targeted 1 000 men for circumcision in the past six months but we have had more than 1 700 volunteers.”

What was more encouraging, she said, was that 95% of the men who came for circumcision had just been from an HIV test and were all aware of their status.

The circumcision project in Zimbabwe does not take HIV positive volunteers because there are fears regarding possible complications during the healing process.

Dr Owen Mugurungi, head of the Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare said two weeks ago that funds permitting, up to 100 000 men would have gone under the knife by end of 2010.

Sadc health officials have met to discuss the issue of male circumcision and there are plans to take the project regional.

Dr Mugurungi confirmed discussions were underway to take the project to regional defence forces with a view to having male soldiers in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and the DRC circumcised.

Zimbabwe has so far set up five permanent circumcision centres countrywide with many more expected to be up and running by end of year.

The existing points include Mutare Provincial Hospital, Karanda Mission, Bulawayo, Spilhaus Centre at Harare Central Hospital and Manyame Military Hospital.

Medical experts that have researched on the effectiveness of circumcision against the HIV virus argue that the skin on the inside of the male foreskin is “mucosal” – similar to that found inside the mouth or nose.

This mucosal skin is said to have a high concentration of Langerhan cells, which are HIV target cells rich in white blood cells or doorway cells for HIV.

“HIV looks for target cells like the Langerhans – its lock and key,” a senior researcher at Harvard University, Edward Green was reported as saying in medical journals.

“The rest of the skin on the penis is armor-like.”

However, the HIV coordinator in Bulawayo cautioned that MC did not provide 100 % protection from HIV infection.

“It is important that people receive the correct information about MC. People should be aware that MC does not provide a 100 % guarantee that one will not contract HIV.

It only provides a 60 % reduction of possible infection.

Just as a condom is not 100 % effective, it is the same with male circumcision,” she said.

Ncube said there was need for health services to be strengthened to increase access to safe MC services.

“We are going to re-train MC providers to make sure that the service is done under safe and hygienic conditions.

Currently, only trained and certified doctors and clinical officers are allowed to administer male circumcision.

We are in the process of training senior medical practitioners to be able to offer the service,” she said.

The government is committed to funding the programme with the assistance of partner organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation.