Cape Town – The fight against HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases was given a boost on Thursday.
The provincial health department and the Metropolitan Health Risk Management are now working to increase male medical circumcision in South Africa.
Research has shown that medical male circumcision decreased by 60 percent the risk of male-to-female transmission of HIV infection.
Circumcision not only lowered the risk of HIV, but also reduced the risk of sexually transmitted infections such as HPV (Human Papillomavirus).
HPV infections are one of the leading causes of cervical cancer, which is the second most common type of cancer found in South African women. Cervical cancer also has the highest mortality rate, where in more than half of reported cases patients die.
Through the partnership entered into on Thursday, the provincial health department will distribute circumcision packs and HIV test kits to GPs, while the Centre for HIV/Aids Prevention Studies (Chaps) already facilitates training for various GPs to perform medical male circumcisions.
Metropolitan Health co-ordinates the training of GPs and, among other things, handles the logistics of supplying consumables to doctors.
At Thursday’s event, Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said when she started working in the department, she realised the big difference a “snip” can make.
“We are aiming for 8 000 snips a year to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. We are very excited about this initiative, especially getting the private sector on board because government cannot do it alone,” she said.
The goal of the partnership is to help halve new HIV infections by next year.
Mbombo said the Eastern and Western Cape provinces had the lowest uptake of medical circumcisions, mainly due to competition from traditional circumcisions.
When circumcisions are done under non-surgical conditions there is a high risk of complications. Beth Engelbrecht, provincial head of the health department, said they have seen many cases of mutilation resulting from traditional circumcision.
“We are partnering with an initiation school in Robertson, where the health officials perform the circumcision and the rest of the initiation process is still done traditionally. It is a very complex situation because the people who perform the traditional circumcision feel they are losing out financially,” she said.
So far, Engelbrecht said, 16 596 male circumcisions have been performed through the initiative. This was double the amount from 2011.
Dr Zainul Parker, one of the doctors who received training, said circumcisions would have more success with children under the age of two. The procedure in children took only seven minutes, and for adults, about half an hour if done by a trained doctor.
“It would be a good idea to convince parents about the benefits of circumcision because an 18-year-old male who comes for a circumcision likely had two years of sexual experience and exposure to STDs.”
Parker said most STDs “lived” under the foreskin of men and when the foreskin was removed, the risk of their female partners contracting life-threatening diseases was dramatically reduced.
“This project is important because trained GP’s can confidentially advise their patients about the benefits and if it is done by a GP, the procedure is also cheaper than at hospitals.”