From 22-27 July, the XIX International AIDS Conference is being held in Washington, DC, with an expected 20,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries in attendance. Convened by the International AIDS Society, this six-day meeting will bring together leaders in the fight against HIV to “translate recent momentous scientific advances into action that will address means to end the epidemic, within the current context of significant global economic challenges.” Daily highlights and a live webcast are available at the conference website.
Christopher Miho is on his way to becoming part of an empowered HIV-free generation in Tanzania. Mr. Miho, a logging truck driver, is among the more than 100,000 males who have received free and voluntary medical male circumcision services (VMMC) as part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent HIV/AIDS in the East African country.
This campaign to save lives is utilizing innovative approaches to scale up VMMC, bringing a complement of services, including HIV counseling and testing and HIV prevention messages. MCHIP has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in an ambitious effort to circumcise 80% of men and adolescent males in the Iringa and Njombe regions. The campaign is funded by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID and is implemented by MCHIP, led by Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University.
Mr. Miho, 36, along with his 17 year-old son, Iddi, volunteered to receive VMMC services during the recent June campaign at the Nyololo Health Center in Mafinga.
“I wanted to do this last year but because of the logging season at the Sao Hill Forest Reserve, I couldn't," said Miho, who lives in Nyololo village. "We have just started a two-month break, waiting for new logging permits and licenses to be released, and I didn't want to lose this opportunity again."
Since the program began in late 2009, there has been an overwhelming response. In Iringa, a region with high HIV prevalence and a low circumcision rate, teams of health care providers, led by highly-trained nurses, have been able to service more than 100 clients each day at some sites. The campaign has attracted women—wives, mothers and sisters, who are serving as key allies and enthusiastic supporters.
"All the clients we have served are now our champions out there, on HIV prevention, and in spreading the message on VMMC," said Registered Nurse Selina Mtweve, 38, who performed the 100,000th circumcision.
The program is halfway toward its goal of circumcising 214,000 males in Iringa and Njombe regions by 2015. As a result of these procedures, it is estimated that as many as 16,000 future HIV infections will be averted between now and 2025.
“To get to 80% (of eligible clients, ages 10-49), you can’t just serve those who come to the hospital or health facility,” says Hally Mahler, Chief of Party, MCHIP-Tanzania. “We are taking the services to the people. During campaigns we work with the regional health authorities to set up and staff outreach sites at remote health centers and dispensaries. We have even set up VMMC services in an abandoned marketplace and in the backyard of a village leader. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for men and boys of that community to choose HIV prevention.”
“The commitment of regional health officials has been tremendous,’’ added Mahler. “And women play a critical role as parents, partners and providers.”
The community participation begins with district-level HIV prevention committees and extends to HIV prevention partners who reach youth and at-risk men as well as offer HIV counseling and testing services. Everyone is working toward the same goal—referring eligible men and youth to VMMC sites so that they may benefit from an effective HIV prevention intervention. When scaled up rapidly in areas with high HIV prevalence, this strategy has proven to reduce the number of new HIV infections by approximately 60 percent. As fewer men contract HIV, the likelihood that women will encounter an HIV-positive partner decreases.
Dr. Robert Mahimbo, the Regional Medical Officer, applauded the campaign’s 100,000th milestone, saying he was grateful to the American people for their support. “We hope the people from this great nation will continue supporting efforts to bring down HIV transmission in our region," he said.
Jhpiego/Tanzania Publications & Communications Officer