Mass circumcision can reduce HIV/Aids - UN
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 people.
``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 circumcision.
``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.