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TWENTY-eight initiates have died in the Eastern Cape since the start of the winter circumcision season.
Two of the initiates were allegedly burnt to death when their school caught fire on Friday night.
Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said yesterday the department was doing all it can to prevent unnecessary deaths.
"We have already rescued more than 100 initiates from illegal schools including the 26 who died of complications. Most of them had developed gangrene and had to be amputated," Kupelo said.
He said the department was concerned about the number of initiates who had died even though this figure was low compared to last year's.
"We have approached traditional leaders in both eastern and western Pondoland to help rescue these boys by suspending circumcision this season.
"Eastern Pondoland King Mpondombini Sigcau had agreed to come on board on Friday following a meeting between health MEC Phumulo Masuale, traditional healers, surgeons and community members in the Lusikisiki area.
"Western Pondoland King Ndamase Ndamase's representatives have indicated that they will also suspend circumcision," he said.
Kupelo said the department would meet Ndamase's (who is in hospital) representative on Friday to finalise the matter.
The Eastern Cape health department is spending R1200 a day to treat more than 100 initiates in hospitals around the province. The worst affected regions are eastern and western Pondoland.
Kupelo said last year the department spent over R2million on sick initiates.
"Most of them had to undergo reconstructive surgery following amputation of their genitals. We do not want the situation to repeat itself. That is why we are calling on traditional leaders to suspend this winter's circumcision," Kupelo said.