Ministry Scales Up Circumcision Drive

The Zambezi Region has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country, compounded by male residents’ reluctance to get circumcised.

The national antenatal care sentinel survey conducted after every two years by the Ministry of Health and Social Services has constantly indicated that the transfrontier region of Zambezi has the highest number of recorded HIV cases in the country at 37 percent followed by Oshana with 22 percent.

But the situation is being exacerbated by low male medical circumcision coverage in the two regions.

This revelation was made recently in Katima Mulilo by the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, during the official launch of the scale-up of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMCC) in Zambezi Region.

According to Kamwi, the health mininstry has as a result devised interventions aimed at scaling down this trend.

“Zambezi and Oshana were selected as the first two to scale up the service due to their high HIV prevalence as well as low male circumcision coverage. It is a known fact that according to sentinel survey results conducted by my ministry every two years since 1992, Zambezi Region has remained the region with the highest HIV prevalence. VMMC will therefore play an important role as one of the HIV prevention tools for this region over the coming years,” stressed the health minister.

The same programme was launched in Oshana Region some two weeks ago. The health minister stated that Zambezi is targeting over 17 000 men for circumcision by the year 2016 and Kamwi is optimistic this figure is achievable. “I know this is an ambitious target but given the leadership we have in the region, I am positive that we can achieve it,” he said.

VMCC has been incorporated into HIV prevention programmes in Namibia following a joint recommendation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations AIDS Organisation (UNAIDS) in 2007 for member states to include circumcision in HIV prevention packages.

Kamwi further said this decision was endorsed by cabinet, culminating in the official launch of the Namibia male circumcision policy by President Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2010. “In August 2009, we introduced a pilot project for the VMMC programme at Windhoek Central and Oshakati Intermediate hospitals and to date 16 341 males have been circumcised countrywide. In addition, more than 260 health care workers have been trained to provide VMMC services as part of the comprehensive HIV prevention package,” said Kamwi. The national target for medical male circumcision is 330 128.

Kamwi noted that apart from reducing the chances of HIV infection, male circumcision comes with a myriad of benefits such as prevention of inflammation of the glands and foreskin, lowers the risk of cervical cancer (in women), maintains penile hygiene and eliminates bruising and tearing during sex.

He however cautioned against misconceptions that circumcision gives men the leeway to engage in unsafe sex. “Once circumcised you are not to have sex or masturbate until the wound is fully healed which is about six weeks. I encourage men and boys to take this opportunity and get circumcised,” he said.

“For those who have been circumcised, remember that VMMC only offers partial protection and you need to continue preventing HIV infection through abstinence, being faithful and using condoms constantly and correctly all the time,” counselled the health minister.

Kamwi was also appreciative about the support the Namibian government continues to receive from the United States through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – an initiative aimed at saving the lives of those suffering from HIV and AIDS around the world.

“We have received generous financial and technical support from the United States government through PEPFAR. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the US government through the US representative present here today,” stressed the health minister.

Research on circumcision indicates it reduces the chances of heterosexual men getting infected with HIV by up to 60 percent.

Source : New Era