Africans Urged to Make Circumcision Priority to Fight AIDS
A new report issued by African and US AIDS advocates urges African leaders to increase voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) in order to prevent the spread of HIV infections in African countries in the next 10 years, according to a statement from the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Collation (AVAC).
Several African and US AIDS advocacy groups, including HIV/AIDS in Kenya, the Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organizations, Sonke and more, filed the report.
"Voluntary medical male circumcision is one of the most effective HIV prevention tools available today. Countries where VMMC can have an impact should be acting to ensure access-and advocates should be demanding accountability," Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC said. "At this moment in the epidemic, there are few things that could do more to reduce the human and economic toll of HIV. When the AIDS community gathers this month in Washington, we need to refocus on this inexpensive, one-time intervention that offers men life-long partial protection against HIV."
According to the statement, research has found that VMMC could dramatically cut down the transmission of heterosexual HIV in some African countries.
"Long-term follow-up from clinical trials conducted in Africa suggests that VMMC reduces a man's risk of sexually acquiring HIV from an HIV-positive female partner by as much as 75 percent," the statement reads. "Modeling research indicates that achieving 80 percent VMMC coverage among men ages 15-49 in 13 key African countries by 2015 would avert up to 3.36 million new HIV infections by 2025. Meeting this target would also avert $16 billion in future direct AIDS prevention and treatment costs."
In January it was reported that three studies also claimed circumcising straight men may be one of the best ways to reduce the spread of AIDS. The studies showed that the risk of infecting someone with the disease can be reduced by 60 percent or more. Public health officials suggested a few different tools that would make the circumcision process quick and safe, one of which is called PrePex - a device that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. PrePex uses a rubber band to compress the foreskin and causes it to die in a few hours due to a lack of blood.
"Even if we cannot achieve 80 percent VMMC coverage in all priority countries by 2015, each of these countries should issue a clear timeline for when they will meet their targets," said Nelson Otwoma, National Coordinator of National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya. "My own country, Kenya, provides a positive example. This essential prevention strategy cannot be allowed to stall as it has for some time in many countries."
Bharam Namanya, the executive director of he Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organizations, said circumcision campaigns in countries that could benefit from them are not as developed as they could be.
"Circumcision campaigns have barely gotten off the ground in many of the countries where they could help turn the epidemic around," he said. "That's unconscionable when we know that voluntary medical male circumcision could prevent so many infections - and do so more affordably than almost any other method."
Perhaps in trying to set an example, several members of Zimbabwe's parliament, who are part of a health panel, agreed to get circumcised in June. In addition, 107 lawmakers and their spouses were given HIV tests. In all, there were more than 40 legislators who volunteered to undergo circumcision, the Associated Press reported. The article also notes that about 13 percent of Zimbabwe's population is infected with the deadly disease.
"Leadership has always made the difference between winning and losing the battle against AIDS, and it's no different with voluntary medical male circumcision," Desmond Lesejane, Sonke's deputy director. "In the few places where leaders have helped make it a national priority and a social norm, we're seeing impressive increases in male circumcision rates. Where they haven't, it's no surprise that we see stigma and inaction."