In the opening days of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, African political and traditional leaders joined together to voice their support for Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC). Nine honored guests and advocates for an HIV-free generation joined journalist Brenda Wilson, who served as the panel moderator, and partners—the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), AVAC and Champions for an HIV Free Generation—in this MCHIP-sponsored program.
“I am making the appeal for scaling up Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision,” former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa told conference delegates. “I hope that this will rouse us more to put a little more effort into emphasizing prevention of HIV and AIDS.”
The panelists discussed the successes and challenges to VMMC implementation and scale-up in East and Southern Africa. VMMC has been shown to reduce the female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60%. If scaled to reach 80% of adolescent and adult men within five years, VMMC has the potential to prevent more than 3 million new HIV infections and save an estimated US $16.5 billion in care and treatment costs.
Angelo Kaggwa, a program coordinator for AVAC, discussed his personal experience making the decision to undergo VMMC. Kaggwa admitted that it took him eight years from the time he first considered being circumcised until the day he decided on the procedure. He told the audience that, ultimately, he realized that his reasons for not being circumcised – pain, recovery time, and cost - were “more excuses than reasons.” When asked his thoughts about an intervention that is not 100% effective in preventing transmission, Kaggwa replied, “While I wait for that intervention that works 100% of the time, I have this one that will last a lifetime.”
Kaggwa’s hesitancy and initial reluctance to participate in VMMC is not uncommon. Some ethnic groups and tribes in East and Southern Africa do not traditionally practice male circumcision. His Excellency Chief Jonathan Mumena shared his experience as an advocate for VMMC among the Kaonde People. Chief Mumena described how, after learning about the benefits of VMMC, he decided to promote it within his community despite some initial resistance. “In Africa, culture is very, very important,” Mumena said. “But culture is not cast in concrete.”
“What is the purpose of having a culture if we are going to die and abandon this culture?” he added.
The panelists of the event touched on numerous topics regarding VMMC, including the women’s perspective and the economics of VMMC, finally concluding with President Mkapa’s call to action to his fellow African leaders. He affirmed that the time had come to create an HIV-free generation. “It can be done,” Mkapa said. “Play your part.”