Thursday, August 2, 2007

Namibia: Circumcision Arouses Interest in Country

New Era (Windhoek)
30 July 2007

Petronella Sibeene

Recent research reports claiming that male circumcision reduced the risk of HIV/Aids infection by up to 60 percent, have started receiving serious attention from the health sector in Namibia.

Namibian HIV Clinicians Society President, Dr Bernard Haufiku, said in light of research findings in some countries suggesting that male circumcision is one of the most effective methods of reducing infection, relevant stakeholders in Namibia have started networking so as to find a way to address this issue.

"It is a big issue with high cost implications, but we (Clinician society) feel circumcision should be recommended once resources are available. It should be recommended and should be done under hygienic conditions," he said.

Despite reports that male circumcision reduces the HIV transmission rate, Haufiku called on Namibians to continue applying the traditional ABC HIV prevention principle.

He said although there is scientific evidence that circumcized men have 60 percent less chance of contracting the HIV virus as compared to uncircumcized males, studies have not yet shown the direct benefit for women.

"The behavioural change messages of prevention packed in the traditional ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, Condomize) are still very valid, and circumcision is just an "add on" intervention. Our ABC message can actually include another C to become ABCC," he said.

"Circumcision" Haufiku added "is not a magic bullet, nor is it a licence to unprotected sex or any risky behaviour."

While national strategies to scale routine offer for male circumcision for all Namibians are yet to be decided, Haufiku said health care workers and Medical Aid Funds should not deny individuals the right to have access to circumcision where it is available and safe.

Last week Wednesday, medical experts met in the capital to discuss the new development in the search for a reduction to the spreading of HIV virus.

A surgeon from Zambia ,Dr Kasonda Bowa, said countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa have pilot-tested the new development, and it was found that male circumcision is one method that can be used in reducing HIV along with condoms.

Although male circumcision does not prevent one from becoming 100 percent infected, there is a 61 percent reduction, he said.

Male circumcision in Namibia is not practised by all tribes. It is mostly done in the Kunene and Omaheke Regions where the Ovaherero people originate.

The same regions have recorded low HIV infections, which shows that male circumcision is one of the methods to be used in reducing the infection rate, said Ministry of Health and Social Services official, Sandra Gowases.

Statistics show that 15 000 Namibians die of HIV/Aids every year, and with an infection rate of 19,7 percent, it is one of the hardest-hit countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The 2006 National Sentinel Survey Report also shows that overall, HIV prevalence from the 2006 survey was 19.9 percent, representing an increase of 0.02 percent compared to 2004 which recorded a prevalence rate of 19.7 percent.