AIDS Experts Recommend Mass Circumcision in South Africa
Whilst shying away from recommending female circumcision, AIDS experts are pushing circumcision as a means of preventing the spread of the still-incurable disease. Aside the from
Aids experts have called for a mass circumcision programme in South Africa, condemning a “deafening silence” from policy makers since studies revealed it sharply cut infection rates.
As scientists this week questioned a lack of movement on using male circumcision as a preventative method, delegates at South Africa’s national Aids conference called for the rollout of a mass circumcision programme.
Earlier this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the procedure after three studies in Africa showed it reduced chances of contracting HIV by up to 60 percent.
But although countries such as Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania have drawn up plans for widespread circumcision, the South African government has done nothing to date.
“I think by now I would support people starting to think about a mass circumcision campaign,” said Neil Martinson of the Perinatal HIV/Aids research Unit.
Martinson said concerns over whether South Africans thought it was a culturally acceptable practice that would lead to risky sexual behaviour were not proven to be valid.
“In South Africa, high proportions of men and women find it acceptable to be circumcised, people (in the studies) weren’t going around and sleeping around more because they didn’t have a foreskin.”
With an Aids vaccine years away, the focus has turned to HIV prevention and the conference aims to build consensus about ways to do this.
“I am surprised there is no action on male circumcision. Where are the male activists? Studies show a 60 percent reduction (in risk) but there is silence,” Glenda Gray, who will oversee the first HIV vaccine trials run in the country, told a panel discussing prevention research.
The primary investigator into the first circumcision trial held in South Africa, Bertran Auvert of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, told AFP it was time for implementation.
“It’s not even my opinion. It’s now a WHO recommendation,” he said.
The circumcision debate revealed one of the biggest challenges was getting the message across that being circumcised was not foolproof.
In some cultures in South Africa circumcision is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood, and boys go to initiation schools where they are circumcised with a spear-like instrument.
South Africa's own health ministry, however, is sometimes its own worst enemy:
organisers of the conference have denied reports that they snubbed
controversial Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
"The committee confirmed that Dr Tshabalala-Msimang had been invited
repeatedly to take part officially at the opening of the conference on
Tuesday evening," said a statement from organisers Dira Sengwe.
Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had told the conference that
Dr Tshabalala-Msimang had missed a session on Wednesday because she was
unhappy with her allocated slot.
Dr Tshabalala-Msimang has often told people with HIV to eat garlic,
lemons and beetroot, while casting doubt on anti-retroviral drugs.
Anti-Aids activists have long demanded her dismissal.