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Namibia’s male circumcision initiative to prevent HIV faces headwind

WINDHOEK (Xinhua) -- Circumcised and ready for action?

These four words that are part of a radio advertisement currently gracing the airwaves have aroused mixed feelings among Namibians.

The advertisement is being run by the health ministry as part of a campaign to educate and encourage men to opt for voluntary medical male circumcision.

Namibia aims to circumcise 330, 000 men by 2025 but since the program was officially launched in 2014, just above 30, 000 have taken up the offer.

Most Namibian men, like Windhoek security guards Simeon Hafeni and Gottlieb Kalandu, are refusing to let go of their foreskins.

Hafeni, who is from the northern regions of the country where circumcision is not compulsory under tribal beliefs, says he does not see any reason for him to be cut.

“What if I get the cut now, and then tomorrow another disease that needs the foreskin comes by?” he asks.

His workmate, Kalandu quips: “God was not a fool to create men with a foreskin.”

These two could symbolize the difficulty the health ministry’s campaign faces even after rolling out the program as far back as 2009 when the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS Organization (UNAIDS) recommended circumcision as one of an HIV preventative measure.

Namibia went on to train more than 260 health care workers to provide deal with circumcision, while 33 district hospitals were made available for the program.

A national strategic plan for 2010/11-2015/16 drawn up and revised in 2013 lists six core program to prevent and control the spread of HIV in the country including circumcision.

The strategic plan states that there is need to reach out to HIV negative adult men and initiate services for adolescents.

Although health ministry spokesperson Ester Paulus said that circumcision is a “low-cost medical intervention”, the strategic plan shows that more than 200 million Namibian dollars (13 million U.S. dollars) was set aside for the first three years.

“Male circumcision is a one-time, low cost medical intervention, which has been recommended by the WHO as part of a comprehensive package of HIV prevention.”

The country also carried out a pilot project in Aug. 2009 in capital Windhoek and at Oshakati, in the north of the country about 700 kilometers from Windhoek.

Realizing that fewer men were volunteering, the health ministry has been on an aggressive campaign. Apart from the advertisements, the health minister, Bernard Haufiku, has also been vocal about the need for men to get the cut.

When the advertisements were launched in May, Haufiku said in high HIV prevalence countries like Namibia, circumcision will at least prevent one in five infections as it reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 60 percent.

Hafeni and Kalandu say they have heard the advertisements, which they think are humorous.

“But radio is radio. I don’t believe everything I hear on radio,” Kalandu says.

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