FRANK NYAKAIRU | KAMPALA, UGANDA - Aug 13 2008 12:21
Ugandan authorities have launched a mass circumcision drive with the hope it will reduce HIV/Aids rates in the East African country.
Some studies indicate circumcision could be 70% effective in protecting men against infection by the virus during heterosexual intercourse, when used in conjunction with condoms and other safe-sex practices.
Government officials in Kampala have decided to take advantage of a month-long traditional "circumcision season" practised by some tribes to drive the message home.
"Socially, it is uniting, and now it has also been proven medically; that is gratifying and it is now part and parcel of the strategy for fighting Aids," Kibale Wambi, chairperson of Sironko district in eastern Uganda, said.
The government plans to circumcise more than 3 000 local youths between the ages of 12 and 18. HIV activists say there needs to be more money and efforts like this on a global scale.
But some critics of circumcision in Uganda say it is brutal and dangerous. In traditional settings like Sironko, circumcisers have used the same knife for each young man.
This time, the government has introduced a strict one-knife-per-operation ruling to ensure no infections are passed on.
"If a knife is to be re-used on another person, it first has to be sterilised," Wambi said, wearing a traditional hat covered with cowrie shells.
"We have also discouraged the traditional practice of forcing the circumcised males into sexual intercourse to prove their manhood after the wound heals, to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases."
Some experts fear that some of the newly circumcised men may believe they are immune following the procedure -- translating into even more risky sexual behaviour.
"All I know is that when I am circumcised, it will not be as easy for me to get infected with HIV/Aids," said one young man, Kizeja Michael, as he lined up for the operation.
"People who are circumcised are not able to get Aids," said his friend, Peter Kibatsi.
Uganda has been widely praised for an education campaign about condoms that is credited with cutting HIV prevalence rates from 30% two decades ago to about 6% today. -- Reuters