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Circumcision race heats up as DoH deadline looms

As the busy circumcision season officially kicks off, new campaigns are being launched to accelerate the uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) in order to meet the National Department of Health’s (NDoH) target of 4.3 million circumcisions by year-end.

The effect could slash the number of new infections in the country by as much as half and could avert more than 1 million new HIV infections by 2025.

Even though the circumcision target may sound ambitious, Rachael Rawlinson, the Prevention Programmes’ Manager at HIV management organisation, CareWorks says SA still has a fighting chance.

“Over the past five years, 2.3 million men have already taken up the challenge and we are encouraged by districts that have risen to the challenge.

“In recent months we have seen a spike in demand in many of the at-risk communities as communication around VMMC intensifies.

“More and more South African men (and women) are becoming aware of the risks that can go along with sex and the difference that VMMC can make in reducing a man’s chances of getting HIV. More men are considering circumcision and women are also encouraging their partners to undergo VMMC,” she says.

According to Rawlinson, campaigns that have been extremely effective are those that encourage men who have already undergone circumcision to ‘mobilise’ their peers for VMMC.

“These ‘peer mobilisers’ help to get the word out to their friends, family and others they associate with on a daily basis, and are able to relate their experience on a more personal level. Men generally don’t like to talk about sexual health issues, however, knowing that a friend or family member has himself undergone VMMC, with little discomfort, should encourage them to follow suit,” says Rawlinson.

With this in mind, CareWorks this week launched its massive, countrywide Peer-to-Peer campaign, alongside the NDoH and clinical VMMC partners with the aim of assisting as many men as possible to access medical circumcision.

The campaign will heavily rely on those who have already been circumcised to refer their peers for VMMC and as an additional incentive they could earn themselves free airtime for every three referrals.

“This will not only increase the number of men undergoing VMMC, but will also reward those who have shown commitment to the cause and gone the extra mile in fighting the scourge of HIV in our country,” remarks Rawlinson.

One such VMMC advocate is Xolisani Ntuli, an 18-year-old from KwaZulu-Natal, who is determined to make a difference through the Peer-to-Peer campaign.

“I want my friends and community to be healthy and free from new infections, which is why I’m going to refer as many of my peers as I can until I’ve spread the message to the entire community,” says Xolisani.

According to Rawlinson, a spate of studies and recommendations point to the health benefits of circumcision.

“The data and science is convincing with VMMC having been shown to reduce a man’s lifetime risk of acquiring HIV by approximately 60%. VMMC has also been proven to have many other benefits such as reducing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), reducing the risk of penile cancer, and reducing the risk of cervical cancer in circumcised males’ partners.

“VMMC is part of a combination prevention approach that also includes correct and consistent condom usage, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), regular testing for HIV and treatment of STIs. None of these measures offers 100% protection, but used together they offer important HIV prevention benefits. This is a way to spread the message about VMMC and allow people to refer their peers who also want to benefit from this preventative measure,” says Rawlinson.

More about CareWorks’ Peer-to-Peer campaign:

Those who have undergone VMMC, and are 18 years and older, can refer three friends who are interested in undergoing the procedure and earn R30 free airtime. Referral candidates must be between the ages of 15 and 49, must not yet have undergone VMMC and must be interested in undergoing the procedure.

The referral candidates must also be contactable by CareWorks’ call centre who will provide more information, assist in scheduling an appointment, as well as provide post-operative follow-up support.

If men who have already undergone VMMC want to refer friends or family members, they should send a free ‘please call me’ to 0606 855 555 and they will be contacted to get the details of their referrals. A ‘please call me’ can also be sent to this number if anyone wants to schedule an appointment for themselves or their male partners or children.