Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rwanda to urge male circumcision in AIDS fight

KIGALI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Rwanda plans to encourage male circumcision to help the tiny African nation curb HIV/AIDS rates, a senior official told Reuters on Friday.

Studies on the continent have found circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission from females to males by 60 percent.

However, U.N. research carried out last year said only about one in every five Rwandan men had undergone the procedure.

"We want to embark on a sensitisation campaign to have males in our country circumcised as one way of combating HIV/AIDS," Anita Asiimwe, managing director at the Health Ministry's Treatment and Research AIDS Centre, told Reuters.

"But we don't want to confuse our people to replace circumcision for other preventive measures like the use of a condom and abstinence. It is just coming as an addition."

Asiimwe said the government would soon begin training health workers for the task, before launching a countrywide programme to encourage voluntarily male circumcision which she said could also help prevent other sexually transmitted diseases.

"We want to channel it right from the major hospitals down to the health centres so that access for every willing male is provided," Asiimwe said.

Nearly 25 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.N. agency UNAIDS says male circumcision has the potential to prevent about 5.7 million new HIV infections and 3 million deaths over 20 years in the region.

In Rwanda, the disease was often spread on during its 1994 genocide, when militiamen raped women and girls.

However, a recent survey showed a 3 percent HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the country, relatively low compared with neighbouring states.