24 March 2009

HIV circumcision policy by June

SA's policy on male circumcision as part of efforts to prevent HIV/Aids will be finalised in June, according to the department of health.


South Africa's policy on male circumcision as part of efforts to prevent HIV/Aids will be finalised in June, says health department Director General Thami Mseleku.

Speaking to the media during an SA National Aids Council (Sanac) plenary meeting in Pretoria, Mseleku said male circumcision had been a key issue discussed in the morning session.

"The meeting actually confirmed and affirmed the need for policy to be finalised by June."

Extensive research has shown that the removal of the foreskin reduces the risk of HIV infection.

Mseleku was joined by Deputy President Baleka Mbete, Health Minister Barbara Hogan and Sanac deputy chair Mark Heywood.

Communication is critical
Mbete said communication was critical in making sure the public understood circumcision and HIV.

"There should be careful and responsible communication from all of us."

The policy was expected to guide and regulate the practice of circumcision, also a right of passage in some African cultures.

Mseleku said male circumcision needed to be understood as one part of other efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, which included decriminalising prostitution.

Possible misunderstanding
"The public needs to be informed how this could be mishandled."

There had been much debate about a possible increase in risky sexual behaviour by circumcised men who may mistakenly think that they are immune from contracting the disease.

"There are concerns also being raised... that people begin to get a signal that male circumcision prevents HIV and therefore, 'I don't need to do anything else'," said Mseleku.

"If people are going to be seeing it as the only thing that will actually assist them then it might actually exacerbate the epidemic rather than assist."

Hogan said it was not a "silver bullet".

"Male circumcision is not a full-proof prevention by any matter of means and it must be linked to the issue of sexually transmitted diseases as well," she said.

Speaking on behalf of civil society Heywood said he was not satisfied with its response to the epidemic.

"There's a great deal still to do. If we're going to get on top of this epidemic then there has to be transparency and accountability.

A great deal to do
"It sometimes concerns me that the media are giving the impression that we're on top of the HIV epidemic... we're not on top... by any stretch of the imagination."

He added that much needed to be done on prevention, of which male circumcision was but a part.

Another was the financial sustainability of antiretrovirals. He said 630 000 people were on treatment, however sustaining this required "unparalleled" efficiency of the health system and sustainable financial commitment. – (Sapa)

Read more:
HIV/Aids Centre
Circumcise against HIV: study

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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