October 8, 2012
Circumcision alone won't fight HIV, says minister
By Agatha Azebazibwe
The State Minister for Health, Ms Sarah Opendi, has appealed to the public to change its behaviour in order to avoid contracting and spreading HIV/Aids rather than relying on safe male circumcision.
Ms Opendi was last week responding to calls by the Kagadi medical superintendent, Dr James Olowo, who was appealing to men to take part in the safe male circumcision exercise to minimise their chances of catching the virus that causes Aids.
Ms Opendi said some people were taking the message literally thinking that it was enough to protect them against the HIV virus. “Most of you engage in risky sexual behaviour because you think after circumcising you have got an HIV- free ticket which is not true because even after you have done that, you still need to protect yourself against HIV,” she said.
The minister warned the public against abandoning other protective methods such as using condoms, being faithful to one partner, among others. “While I agree that circumcision will reduce your chances of contracting the HIV infection, that should not give you false confidence that if you engage in risky sexual behaviour you will not acquire the virus ,” she said.
She advised men to test their HIV/Aids status and then change their behaviour. “If you test HIV positive act accordingly, get treatment and stop spreading the virus further, if you are negative, stick to one partner. That way HIV/Aids will be history,” Ms Opendi said.
While the minister is fronting behavioural change, experts say the move is not realistic since there is no single strategy that can be used alone to prevent further spread of the virus.
Dr Francis Kiweewa, the head of research and scientific affairs at Walter Reeds Project, said since the epidemic broke out, advocacy for behavioural change has been used but did not bear any tangible benefits.
“Safe male circumcision alone cannot stop one from acquiring the virus if they recklessly engage in sexual behaviour. It has to be supplemented by use of condoms or sticking to one sexual partner. If you promote behavioural change alone, it will not work,” Dr Kiweewa said. He also said policy makers need to realise that people do not abstain and therefore tailor strategies that will address the reality.