Friday, July 13, 2007

Mass circumcision can reduce HIV/Aids - UN

2007-07-09 09:53:22
By Nasser Kigwangallah, Arusha and agencies

The United Nations is now advocating for mass male circumcision in
HIV/Aids stricken Southern African nations. The head of the United
Nations anti-AIDS agency, Dr Peter Piot yesterday urged the nations to
develop a policy of mass male circumcision to fight the disease.

Several recent medical studies have confirmed that circumcision cuts
the risk of HIV infection among men by 50-60 per cent, and the
findings have been backed by UNAIDS.

```These (African) countries should now prepare how to introduce
circumcision on a large scale,`` UNAIDS chief said, adding, ``the
science is clear.``

``Baby boys should be targeted first but then attention should switch
to adolescent boys and adult men,`` said Piot.

In 2005, UNAIDS said that more research was needed to establish the
possible benefits of circumcision before it could be promoted as part
of national HIV programmes.

One U.S.-Ugandan study found male circumcision also reduces infections
in female partners by 30 percent.

Muslim and Jewish men have to be circumcised according to religious
beliefs, and Piot said that UNAIDS understood that advocating mass
circumcision was a religiously and culturally sensitive issue for many

``Changing that is touching very much on the core of values. That is
going to make it more complicated than any other medical issue that I
can think of.``

But he said given the grim HIV/Aids situation in Southern Africa, it
was important to promote the idea of widespread circumcision.

``We are faced with an absolute crisis where you have 20-40 per cent
of adults being HIV-positive ... you need to use every scientifically
proven method to bring down the new infections.``

South Africa, Botswana and Namibia are among the worst hit countries
in the region, while Swaziland has an infection rate of around 50 per
cent, UNAIDS says.

Piot said that even if large-scale circumcision was introduced,
countries should continue to promote condom use as well as abstinence.

Speaking in Arusha during the National Multisectoral Aids Conference
yesterday Prof. Fred Mhau of the Tanzania AIDS Association said there
was a possibility of reducing infections by half if male circumcision
was incorporated in the interventions.

He said there was need to make male circumcision a mandatory
requirement for all male persons in the country.

Prof Mhau said that areas where circumcision was normally practiced,
HIV/Aids infections are low compared to areas where the practice is
not common.

``I appeal to the government to introduce a system whereby
circumcision is made mandatory to all males, regardless of their
traditions or religious affiliation,`` he said.

The expert saluted political leaders saying they had shown commitment
to fight the disease.

He called on stakeholders to join hands and fight the menace to save
the country from total annihilation.

However, Professor Mhalu outlined the importance of condom use, saying
that proper and constant use of condoms could reduce the infection
rate by 60 per cent.

Meanwhile, the government is scrutinizing new research findings on the
relevance of male circumcision in reducing HIV/AIDS infection rates
before adopting the idea in the local interventions against the
disease, reports Judica Tarimo.

``We cannot rush to the idea. We want to conduct a thorough study on
the suggestions and get clear evidence before incorporating the idea
in our HIV/Aids policy frameworks,`` said Health and Social Welfare
Minister, Prof. David Mwakyusa, in a telephone interview.

The minister admitted that HIV/Aids infection rate in countries that
practices male circumcision has been reduced. Prevalence rate in
certain coast and central areas in Tanzania is low due to male

``There is some truth in the new research findings, but we cannot
adopt it just like that. There are a lot of things that must be looked
into. We need to get prepared,`` said the minister.

Mwakyusa said local experts were working on the new findings and their
relevance in the local context and later on forward recommendations to
the government.

``As I am talking, experts are meeting in Arusha to discuss the same
issue. I hope they would come up with sound suggestions and advise the
government accordingly,`` he said.