‘Growing Belief’ Among Men in Swaziland That Circumcision Provides Complete Protection Against HIV, IRIN News Reports
There is a "growing belief" among some men in Swaziland that circumcision provides complete protection against HIV -- a perception that is concerning nongovernmental organizations working to combat the spread of the virus in the country -- IRIN News reports. According to IRIN News, some public health officials in Swaziland recently have "lauded" male circumcision as a procedure that can reduce a man's risk of HIV.
Siphiwe Hlope -- founder of the Swazis for Positive Living, an HIV/AIDS support group -- said the "problem is not with the procedure, but the way it is abused by men, so that men think they are now immune from" HIV. She added that members of the support group are becoming more aware of an attitude that circumcision protects men from HIV while also providing an excuse not to use condoms. Although Hlope does not dispute the advantages of male circumcision in reducing HIV transmission, she said that gender dynamics in Swazi culture should be considered. "AIDS in Africa has a woman's face," Hlope said, adding, "People think the disease originates with women. Why? Because it is the women who are tested first, when they are about to give birth."
An unnamed Zambian physician who treats people living with HIV/AIDS at government hospitals said, "It's the law of unintended consequences," adding, "Introducing the procedure, there was insufficient attention given to cultural factors, attitudes and human psychology." The physician noted, "Many of the men I speak with think circumcision is like an AIDS vaccine. It's not. It's a useful tool to reduce chances of infection at a time and place where few other tools are available, but you can still contract HIV and pass it on to a partner."
According to a recent study by the United Nations Development Program, 20% of men in Swaziland consistently use condoms, which Hlope said might indicate that circumcised men did not stop using condoms after the procedure but had never used them in the first place. She added that education about the procedure should stress a clear and consistent message that it should be part of a variety of HIV prevention measures. "Until that happens, women will be infected with HIV this way, and ... male circumcision may do more harm than good if it is misused to deny women full protection," Hlope said (IRIN News, 7/31).