Promotion of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) among male students has been intensified at campuses throughout the country in order to try obtain the ideal of an AIDS-free generation. HIV management organisation, CareWorks has been working with HEAIDS (Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme) in an attempt to slow down the spread of new HIV infections by urging male students to get circumcised.
Hilton Julius, VMMC Programme Manager for CareWorks says now is the ideal time of the year to engage male students on circumcision since campuses are abuzz with activity as thousands of new and returning students register for the new academic year.
“Scores of trained VMMC mobilisers will be deployed across the country’s campuses, and will aim to engage students regarding the implications of unsafe sex and the benefits of VMMC during the next few months,” he says.
Julius notes that young adults are a sexually active population group that tends to engage in risky sexual behaviour, including unprotected sex with multiple partners. “Statistics show that youth aged between 15 and 24 represent 39% of new HIV infections, which is alarming. Among young people with HIV, 4 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.
“VMMC is an evidenced-based intervention which has been proven to reduce a man’s lifetime risk of HIV by up to 60%. It also helps to prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes and lowers the risk of penile cancer. Female partners of circumcised males also stand to benefit as it reduces a man’s chance of acquiring the human papilloma virus (HPV) and passing it onto his female partner (HPV causes cervical cancer in women).
“If students go about having sex responsibly whilst in their youth by undergoing voluntary medical male circumcision, limiting their number of sexual partners and consistently using condoms, it can have both an immediate and long-term impact. These behavioural changes could indeed go a long way in positively impacting individual and public health goals, however if we are not capable of breaking the current trajectory within the next few years, the ideal of an AIDS-free generation in the near future simply won’t be attainable,” he warns.
HIV remains the single largest cause of years of life lost among adolescent boys and men of reproductive age in southern and eastern Africa. The number of AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2012 decreased by 30% for all ages except among adolescents, who experienced a 50% increase in that same period. Similarly, two-thirds of new HIV infections occurred among youth aged 15 to 24.
To further strengthen the case for VMMC in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, Julius refers to ongoing research in South Africa, which points to lower HIV prevalence and incidence among circumcised men than uncircumcised men. Other models have suggested that VMMC scale-up could reduce HIV incidence in eastern and southern Africa by roughly 30 to 50% over ten years, which makes VMMC a critical component in the fight against the life-threatening infection.
“HIV prevention and decreasing HIV-related deaths depend critically on reaching adolescents. I trust that our campaign, which will engage students on a one-on-one basis, whilst creating widespread awareness via social media, will motivate young people to take responsibility for their own sexual health and that of their partner’s,” concludes Julius.