8 August 2014

Tanzanian Women Lobby Male Partners to Be Circumcised

Dar es Salaam — Efrazia Ngwabi has been trying to encourage her husband to get circumcised but her efforts have been hampered by his belief that the practice is against tribal tradition.

Ngwabi's husband is a member of the Pangwa tribe, which believes mutilating any part of the body is sinful.

"Every time I told him about it he switched to another subject, but as I talked more about it his stance softened," said the 39-year-old mother of three, who lives in Lunyanywi, a village in the Njombe region of Tanzania's southern highlands.

Eventually, Ngwabi managed to persuade her husband to visit a community worker who explained to him why he should consider getting circumcised.

A host of scientific studies conclude that circumcision, the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, reduces a man's risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV infection and significantly decreases the risk of his passing along the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer in women.

"I was rather insisting to him that if you don't do it you will put me at risk of getting cervical cancer," Ngwabi said.

In her village, talking candidly about circumcision would have once been unthinkable, but as people's attitudes begin to change due to awareness campaigns, more women are actively encouraging their male partners to be circumcised, she said.

"More people are getting more awareness. Before they didn't want to talk about it, but today everybody openly talks about it and spreads the word," Ngwabi said.

Shortly after he had been circumcised, Ngwabi's husband Michael told Thomson Reuters Foundation "It's a bit painful but I will be clean and protect my wife."

He added, "I was very much against it but I realized it was out of ignorance. With counseling I have learnt a lot about it and will spread the word."

Michael Ngwabi is among thousands of men in the Njombe and Iringa regions who have turned up for a Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC), a countrywide campaign funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

It has been implemented by the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Programme led by Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University.

As part to the national policy to raise awareness of the spread of HIV/ AIDS, the government is training women in rural areas to convince their male partners to undergo circumcision.

Njombe and Iringa regions, where only one-third of men are circumcised, have the highest prevalence of HIV in Tanzania.

According to World Health Organization, when scaled up rapidly in areas with high HIV prevalence, male circumcision is an effective strategy, reducing heterosexual men's risk of acquiring the deadly virus by 60 percent.

The campaign, which is led by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, aims to avert over 3 million future HIV infections by targeting 2.1 million males for circumcision around the country by 2017.

Editing by Lisa Anderson: lisa.b.anderson@thomsonreuters.com


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