HIV: Zambian men turn to circumcision
According to medical experts at UTH, demand for circumcision among men has doubled to 60 per cent in recent years while bookings for the operation, flow into months ahead. “There is a general increase in demand by men to be circumcised,” said Kasonde Bowa, an urologist at the UTH. “Most men have realised that the act is a preventive measure against HIV/AIDS and we are overwhelmed.” Kasonde said most men in Lusaka and other towns were flocking to UTH for circumcision in a desperate attempt to avoid contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He argued that the campaign for abstinence, behaviour change and condom use was proving unsuccessful as evidenced by the drop in condom use in recent years. The number of children being taken for the operation in Lusaka was also increasing, said Bowa. “Sometimes, you’ll find that when fathers bring their sons for circumcision, they also go for it,” Another urologist at the same hospital, Francis Manda said the demand for circumcision had doubled in recent years because men want to seek quicker ways of preventing HIV, as most Zambians prefer unprotected sex to using membranes like condoms. He commended circumcision as an alternative to “condom free” sex. He added that other men who sought circumcision were motivated by a widely held myth that doing so heightened sexual pleasure. “Interestingly, men are flocking in numbers to undergo the operation. The demand is now very high as bookings for the operations are made months in advance,” said Manda. The UTH started offering circumcision services four years ago, but most men had shunned the operation claiming it was “unclean”. In southern Zambia, more than 20 men have undergone circumcision during the past two months while the number of people seeking to be circumcised was on the increase. “We expect the number to increase after the launch of the centre (expected this month) because many should have been sensitised on the benefits of circumcision,” said Provincial health director, Gardener Shyakantu. Livingstone Mayor, Fines Chidakwa said male circumcision was important in reducing or fighting HIV. She said there was no need to relent in supporting the government in its endeavour to reduce fresh HIV infections and other sexually transmitted infections. “The challenge to be circumcised is up to men if we are to reduce the risk of contracting STIs and HIV/AIDS,” she said. The National AIDS Council supports circumcision in reducing and fighting the pandemic in Zambia citing the reduced condom use to 36 per cent from 40 per cent recorded in 2000. “Circumcision is the best alternative at the moment because people are not abstaining from sex and the risks have become very high,” said an expert at the quasi-government HIV/AIDS regulatory institution. Some traditional healers in Zambia said circumcision might assist in preventing the spread of HIV but urged the government to sensitise the people on the importance of the operation. “Most of the people we treat as traditional healers have sexually transmitted diseases or those related to AIDS,” said Chipalo Bwanga, a traditional healer from Ndola, about 380 kms from Lusaka. “If men are now ready to be circumcised, then, we are sure of reducing the rate of infection.” Circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin. Recently health minister, Sylvia Masebo reiterated the government’s commitment to scale down the HIV/AIDS infection rate from 16 per cent through the implementation of the national policy which embraced circumcision as one of the measures. Research by French and South African specialists last year revealed that circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 70 per cent globally, a level of protection far better than 30 per cent risk reduction set as a target for an AIDS vaccine. Circumcision in Zambia has traditionally been confined to Luvales, Luchazis and Chokwe among other tribes in northwestern province. The operation is undertaken on children at 7-15 years for sexual and health reasons.