Arusha — Male circumcision is no excuse for not using condoms as a protective gear against HIV/Aids, medical experts have warned following assertions that circumcision can protect one from the virus.
They said although it was one of the effective interventions for prevention of HIV to men, male circumcision should not be considered a barrier to infection of the virus that causes Aids.
Dr. Mwele Malecela, the acting director general of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), a government research body on health and medical matters, stated in Arusha recently that circumcision "can only assist" males from contracting HIV/Aids.
She described as false information often circulated by some people that circumcised men were safe from HIV virus even if they did not use condoms or any protective gear.
The NIMR boss wondered how circumcision alone could keep off the virus when even the condoms were not 100 per cent perfect in preventing the transmission of the virus from one partner to another.
"It (circumcision) is not and cannot be an execuse for not using condoms," she told journalists at the end of the week-long 24th NIMR Annual Joint Scientific Conference.
Dr. Malecela stressed that the national anti-HIV/Aids prevention package should remain the same as recommended by experts with the advocacy and public sensitisation spearheaded by national and local leaders.
She noted that people going around discouraging the use of condoms or claiming that male circumcision was the panacea for not contracting the deadly disease should be ignored.
However, the accomplished scientist admitted that surveys occasionally carried out within the country had indicated that HIV prevalence was higher in areas with low practice of circumcision.
Dr. Asha Kigoda, the deputy minister for Health and Social Welfare said male circumcision was being considered an additional intervention against HIV infection but stressed that more research would continue.
"To scale up male circumcision in the context of HIV prevention, the government should ensure both safety and high coverage over a short period of time," she said when she closed the conference organised by NIMR.
Presentations on circumcision vs HIV/Aids were among the most interesting during the conference with some researchers pressing for male circumcision to be considered as part of the comprehensive HIV/Aids preventive package.
Scientific experts who carried the research at different levels and in various parts of the country are reported to have concurred that circumcision was an effective intervention for HIV prevention in men.
However, they were unanimously agreed that there was dearth of information regarding the cultural attitudes and practices towards circumcision, especially now with the HIV/Aids pandemic. Most tribes in Arusha region do practice circumcision to men.
It was found out that traditional circumcision which is widely practiced across the country could easily become a conduit for the pandemic because it was being conducted in unhygenic conditions and using crude tools.
"Traditional circumcision is associated with high levels of complications", the researchers noted, stressing the need to ensure that the practice is safe by engaging the tribal leaders and traditional circumcisers.
Best methods to reduce "complications" without compromising cultural and social significance of traditional circumcision practices, it was further argued, was possible through having national male circumcision programme.
A survey in three districts; Tarime in Mara region, Bukoba Rural (Kagera) and Ileje in Mbeya, for instance, found varying levels of surgical complications such as excessive bleeding associated with circumcision.
Only about 37 per cent of those circumcised in Tarime and 44 per cent in Bukoba Rural went through the surgery at the health facility. In Ileje, almost all of them had the 'cut' at the hospitals.
Complications from excessive bleeding were much higher in Tarime (69 per cent) compared to Bukoba Rural (41 per cent) as were cases of infections (also 69 per cent in Tarime) and 47 per cent in Bukoba Rural.
Disfigurement of male genital organs through circumcision were also among the risks of leaving the delicate yet age old practise at the hands of traditional practitioners, the study further observed.
For instance, 68 per cent of those circumcised in Tarime had cases of disfigurement compared to Bukoba Rural where the use of traditional circumcisers was not as high as the former district.
Researchers further found out that age of circumcision varied from one district to another, a situation which can complicate problems associated with the practice and chances of using circumcision to minimise HIV cases.
Although research findings documented over the years have indicated that the practice significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition, there is no conclusive assertion that it can indeed prevent infection.
The debate was rekindled during the just-ended annual scientific conference organised by NIMR with most local researchers knowing too well this was not an entirely new subject.
There was a consensus, however, in the on-going fight against the pandemic male circumcision should be promoted as is the case elsewhere in Africa as there were proven indications of its positive role in anti-HIV/Aids drive.
Some scientific trials have shown that male circumcision reduces by up to 60 per cent a man's chances of becoming infected with HIV during sexual intercourse. It only provides minimal protection and should not replace other interventions to prevent transmission of HIV.