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THE KwaZulu-Natal government will start a massive male circumcision programme before the end of the year to help prevent the spread of HIV, Premier Zweli Mkhize announced yesterday.
"We believe that circumcision will help us to reduce HIV infections," he said.
Mkhize was addressing more than 100 traditional and government leaders at Pietermaritzburg's Royal Show Grounds to discuss reviving the custom of male circumcision.
The workshop was also attended by health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, corporate governance MEC Nomusa Dube and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
The KwaZulu-Natal government recently decided to throw its weight behind Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini's plan to revive the custom, which the Zulus abandoned about 200 years ago.
The circumcision custom was abolished by King Shaka Zulu because he felt that too many men were unable to participate in war because they had septic wounds after circumcision.
Mkhize said a number of studies had shown that while male circumcision did not provide complete protection against HIV infection, it lowered the risk of heterosexual HIV transmission.
A 2005 study in South Africa had also found that male circumcision reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by 60percent, the KwaZulu-Natal government said. Two studies in Uganda had apparently produced similar results.
According to pamphlets circulated during the workshop, in a given act of unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, a circumcised man had a 60percent lower risk of getting infected than an uncircumcised man.
Mkhize was, however, quick to point out that a circumcised man could still get infected.
"We need to embark on this programme because our province has the highest number of HIV-positive people. We are trying everything to reduce infections," he said.
The circumcision programme would be conducted by health professionals and properly trained people to prevent deaths resulting from sceptic wounds.
"This will not be done by (just) anyone. We don't want to have deaths. People who will use the machines will be from government. We will monitor the whole thing.
"It is important for the procedure to be done by well-trained people who would be able to check if men were in sufficient good health to be circumcised. Extra caution and procedures need to be followed before a diabetic person is circumcised.
"It is a huge challenge because our health professionals have too much on their plates already." Mkhize said.
The provincial government was looking at performing circumcisions in tents and halls.
"The camps will have well-trained people, including doctors and nurses. People will stay there for a couple of days until they heal," he said.
Mkhize said circumcision would be done during the winter holidays when the weather was not too hot, to avoid wounds getting sceptic.
The provincial government was also considering circumcising baby boys at birth.
Dhlomo said promoting and providing safe male circumcision did not replace other interventions.
Buthelezi said there was a need to fight the HIV pandemic. He, however, raised concerns that Zwelithini had not consulted traditional leaders before making the announcement. Most traditional leaders at the workshop supported the circumcision campaign. - Sapa