Zimbabwe could save up to US$3 billion in treatment of HIV and Aids and downstream costs if the country can scale up its Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC), a health official has said.
Report by Christopher Mahove
Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, HIV and Aids and TB Specialist, Owen Mugurungi, said if the VMMC was to make an impact in the country, there was need for a rapid scaling up of the programme among the 15 to 49 age groups to above the 80% mark, which translated to 1,9 million men.
“If we do that, we will be able to reduce the rate of HIV infection from the current 130 000 new infections to less than 50 000 per year by 2020,” said Mugurungi.
“What it means is we would have also prevented close to 750 000 new HIV infections throughout the country and we would have invested around between US$100-US$120 million, but in terms of treatment and downstream costs, we will probably save US$2,9 billion.
“So you can see from an investment perspective, of saying where should we put our money, this is one of the high return areas in which we should be able to put our money.”
He said at community level, there were also even more benefits for partners of circumcised men and others, as it contributed to more than 75% prevention of HIV and Aids transmission to spouses.
Circumcision, Mugurungi said was also crucial in the elimination of the human papiloma virus, which affected the male organ and was the major cause of cervical cancer in women.
“This is because we know that if we circumcise all men, 60% of them are more likely to have reduced risk and if they have reduced risk, they are also less likely to transmit the disease, so that cascades to situations where even at community level, there is higher or better prevention,” he said.
Mugurungi said although the male circumcision programme had started on a slow note in 2009 in terms of uptake, the trend was slowly improving, with high hopes that the country would be able to reach its target.
“….but we are happy that in 2010, we circumcised the whole year, about 15 000, and already this year, 2013, during this previous campaign, which just happened during the holiday, we have circumcised more than 15 000.
“We are happy that we have achieved in less than six weeks what we achieved in 12 months. If that is anything to go by, we are happy to say that at least people are beginning to take it up and we will be able to circumcise more,” Mugurungi noted.
He said there was need for extensive educational campaigns to take the correct message to the people.
There are also other benefits that have for a long time been associated with circumcision, among them the prevention of genital ulcerations and general personal hygiene.
Mugurungi said studies done in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda had shown evidence that HIV infection rate among circumcised males was 60% lower than in those who were not.
Before the introduction of the male circumcision programme only a handful of private health institutions were offering the service and mostly for reasons other than as an HIV intervention measure.
In Africa, the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains high, with women constituting 59% of people living with HIV.