June 22, 2012
Zimbabwe: MP's Undergo Public HIV Testing and Circumcision[This story is not particularly newsworthy, yet it has been broadcast more widely than almost any other concerning circumcision or HIV/AIDS.]
By Lance Guma
Dozens of MP's on Friday underwent voluntary counselling and public testing for HIV in an effort to encourage other citizens to follow suit.
Blessing Chebundo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids, told SW Radio Africa that "181 people went through the doors for testing and 23 males went through the male circumcision." On Thursday more than 47 legislators, 22 outsiders, as well as 60 parliamentary staff went through the same exercise.
[The actual number of MPs getting circumcised has been reported to be as high as 68 and as low as 10.]
Chebundo could not provide the number of MP's who took part in the exercise on Friday telling us: "We are still trying to separate the figures because when the MP's went for the test, we had a huge crowd of people who had come to witness the occasion and they flocked behind the MP's and were also tested."
Among those who took part were Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo and David Mutambara, the current board chairperson of the National Aids Council. Mutambara went for the public HIV test and was among the 23 who took part in the male circumcision.
"We are proud of them for setting the pace." Chebundo said. He explained that although the testing was public, when it came to the results, "that is the individuals decision to disclose. I am told there were some members who disclosed to the media. We did not want to follow that because it is an individual's decision."
Motivating the exercise is research by the World Health Organization showing that male circumcision can reduce a man's risk of getting HIV by up to 60 per cent. In the late 1990's Zimbabwe had one of the world's highest HIV infection rates but that figure is estimated to have more than halved by 2009.
[In Zimbabwe in 2005, USAID found 14.2% of non-circumcised men had HIV compared to 16.6% of circumcised men. (Similar differences apply in 10 of 18 countries for which it has figures.) Shouldn't this at least be explained before blundering on with mass circumcision programmes? The "up to 60% reduction" figure amounts to a total of 73 circumcised men who did not get HIV less than two years after 5,400 men were circumcised, while 64 did (and 327 dropped out, their HIV status unknown). Circumcision does nothing to directly protect women, who are at greater risk, and may even INcrease the risk to them. It will make it harder for women to insist that men use condoms. It is a recipe for disaster.]
Chebundo was keen to stress that male circumcision alone would not prevent people from contracting the HIV virus which causes AIDS. "We don't preach that when you are male circumcised you should go for unprotected sex. ["Should"? No, that would be madness. But plenty of people are concluding that you may.] Its just one of those measures, you have to have a combination of measures."
Blessing Chebundo the chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids will be our next guest on Question Time.
[Will he be asked any hard questions? We're not holding our breath.
Zimbabwe has horrendous health problems. The money and resources being spent cutting men's genitals could be used much more effectively on measures that would, for example, ensure children live to adulthood.]