30/05/2013 Minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi performs a circumcision on a TUT student during the circumcision promotion campaign for higher education sector at Tshwane University of Technology. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - A programme targeting post-school and training institutions and offering students free medical male circumcision has been launched in an effort to reduce the incidence of HIV and the deaths of young initiates at illegal circumcision schools.

The voluntary programme, dubbed Heaids (higher education HIV/Aids programme) wants to see no fewer than 10 000 men volunteer for medical circumcision across all campuses of higher education in the seven months to the end of the year.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana said men were at the centre of the epidemic and this was just one part in a total strategy for them to take responsibility over women who depended on them for protection against HIV.

The programme, launched at the Tshwane University of Technology recently, was the first of its kind on the continent, the institution’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Nthabiseng Ogude, said.

“We at universities need to combine it with other strategies to make it work,” she said.

HIV prevention was not the only benefit of circumcision, programme director Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia said. “Hygiene is also an important benefit, as is the protection of female partners against cervical cancer,” he said.

Removing the foreskin, which made men susceptible to absorbtion of HIV, also reduced the chances of developing penile cancer.

Voluntary male circumcision was also being taken into the traditional initiation sector where young initiates, who were not at their healthiest and/or had HIV, were at risk of developing any of the number of ailments that affected those who died from botched circumcisions, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

Talks were being held with traditional authorities in provinces which upheld the age-old initiation ceremonies for young men, and there, the minister said, custodians were reminded of HIV, the newest entrant into the mix that could affect the health of the boys.

“The situation has changed. If you take an infected boy up there anything can happen because of this new phenomenon.”

Motsoaledi said the initiate could haemorrhage, dehydrate to death, or develop hypothermia. Several other conditions could also cause death if no screening was done and if supervision by medical practitioners was disallowed.

Motsoaledi spoke of the 30 boys who had died in Mpumalanga initiation schools in recent weeks. He said “culturepreneurs” – who set up bogus schools and performed the rituals with no training whatsoever – were to blame for the deaths.

The lack of involvement by stakeholders, including health practitioners and traditional leaders, put the boys at risk of being exploited by bogus surgeons. “No tradition in South Africa encourages death, especially that of young people,” he said, adding that no person had to die in the name of tradition.

Intervention, in one form an act, had been promulgated by joint sittings with traditional structures and government departments. It allowed teams of trained medical practitioners to participate in preventing initiate deaths and amputations.

The act, already in place in some provinces, among them the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, allowed for thorough screening of the boys for HIV, diabetes and heart problems before they went into initiation school.

With the information, the boys were given a greater chance to survive, as precautions were taken if there was any risk involved.

“The circumcision itself is also performed by medical practitioners, and the traditional handlers take care of the rest,” the minister said.

Rules and regulations were set-out in the act, which, when flouted, were tantamount to criminal activity, he said.

The voluntary male circumcision was one step towards the realisation of the 2030 goal of an HIV-free generation of people under the age of 20.

“It reduces the chances of contracting HIV by between 50 percent and 60 percent, and by 2015 we want to have convinced 4.3 million people to have taken up the opportunity,” he said.

Motsoaledi said to aid the medical male circumcision programme, the department had set up high-volume facilities in some areas, and these had the capacity to perform at least 100 circumcisions a day.

He emphasised, though, that circumcision alone would not protect people from contracting HIV.

“The 40 percent is enough to kill you,” he said.

Condom use, he said, was also important, as were lifestyle changes, and structural adjustments like empowering women.

To launch the programme Motsoaledi personally circumcised a student at the university, and, he said, he had undertaken to do 1 000 circumcisions in KwaZulu Natal. - Pretoria News