The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) government will start a massive male circumcision programme before the end of this year to help prevent the spread of HIV, Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Tuesday.
“We believe that circumcision will help us to reduce HIV infections. Before the end of this year, we will be counting the number of people who have undergone the procedure,” he said.
Mkhize was addressing more than 100 traditional heads and government leaders who gathered at Pietermaritzburg’s Royal Show Grounds on Tuesday to discuss reviving the custom of male circumcision.
The KwaZulu-Natal government recently decided to throw its weight behind Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s plan to revive the custom, which was abandoned by the Zulus more than 200 years ago.
The circumcision custom was abolished by Zulu King Shaka Zulu because he felt that too many men were unable to participate in war because they had septic wounds from circumcision.
Mkhize said a number of studies had shown that while male circumcision did not provide complete protection against HIV infection, it lowered the risk of heterosexual HIV transmission. A 2005 study in South Africa had also found that male circumcision reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by 60%, the KwaZulu-Natal government said.
Two studies in Uganda produced similar results.
Mkhize was, however, quick to point out that a circumcised man could still get infected.
“We need to embark on this programme because our province has the highest number of HIV-positive people. We are trying everything which we think can help us to reduce infections,” said Mkhize.
The circumcision programme would be conducted by health professionals and properly trained people to prevent deaths resulting from septic wounds.
Many people die every year in the Eastern Cape from septic circumcision wounds.
“This will not be done by [just] anyone. We don’t want to have deaths. People who will use the machines will be from government. We will monitor the whole thing as government,” said Mkhize.
It was important for the procedure to be done by well-trained people who would be able to check if men were in sufficiently good health to be circumcised. “Extra caution and procedures need to be followed before a diabetic person is circumcised,” he said.
The provincial government would allocate funds that would be used for the programme, he said.
“It is a huge challenge because our health professionals have too much on their plates already,” said Mkhize.
The provincial government was looking at performing circumcisions in tents and halls.
“The camps will have well-trained people, including doctors and nurses. People will stay there for a couple of days until they heal.”
He said circumcision would be done in winter during the winter holidays when the weather is not hot, to avoid wounds getting septic.
The provincial government was also considering circumcising baby boys when they are born.
The Tuesday workshop was attended by KwaZulu-Natal minister of health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, KwaZulu-Natal minister of corporate governance Nomusa Dube and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Dhlomo said promoting and providing safe male circumcision did not replace other interventions to prevent heterosexual transmission of HIV, but it provided an additional prevention.
“It is critical to ensure that clear and correct information on the continuing need for other HIV prevention measures is provided,” he said.
Speaking during the workshop, Buthelezi said there was a need to fight the HIV pandemic. He, however, raised concerns that Zwelithini had not consulted traditional leaders before he made the announcement about the revival of the circumcision custom, saying that he had also undergone the procedure.
“It would have been wise if the king called izimbizos before he made the announcement. It is not a good thing that we ended up getting details of this programme from government,” he said.
Most traditional leaders who spoke during the workshop supported the circumcision campaign. — Sapa