UNITED States Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington, yesterday launched a new medical male circumcision project at Scott hospital in Morija that will enable the Ministry of Health to carry out the procedure on 26000 more men this year.
Sponsored by the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in Lesotho by JHPIEGO, the project is part of the more than $225 million (about M 2,446 billion) of US government bilateral support to help Lesotho combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Said Ambassador Harrington: “With the launch of this programme, we are marking our ongoing commitment; a commitment that reflects the deep compassion and generosity of the American people.
“The US Government looks forward to continuing its collaboration with the Government of Lesotho and other stakeholders, aimed at achieving an AIDS free generation.”
He added that the US government had supported the Ministry of Health in implementing the Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) programmes in Lesotho since 2012.
“Through our efforts, VMMC services have rapidly scaled up and have provided more than 80 000 medical circumcisions throughout Lesotho. Building on these successes, this new project will provide 26 000 new circumcisions by the end of this year,” Ambassador Harrington said.
“The science is very clear about the effectiveness of medical circumcision. We know that a man who is circumcised is 60 percent less likely to acquire HIV. This makes VMMC one of the most cost-effective tools for HIV prevention available to us today.”
According to the ambassador, the new programme is building on the success of the innovative branding of the Rola Katiba campaign – which means take your hat off in Sesotho and resulted in more than 80 000 men being circumcised, by specifically targeting young men aged between 15 to 29.
“The goal is to persuade as many men in this age group as possible to be circumcised before they are exposed to HIV,” he said.
VMMC services consist of HIV and health education, HIV testing and counselling, sexually transmitted infections screening, male circumcision surgery, and linkages of HIV positive clients to care and treatment services.
“At fixed sites, including all district hospitals, VMMC services are provided twice a week including Saturdays. During the winter when the demand is especially high, the hospitals provide services daily. VMMC services are also provided at health centre facilities through regular outreach,” he said.
Ambassador Harrington also corrected a misconception that circumcisions heal more quickly in winter rather than summer saying: “Let me assure you, that is not true. The season has no impact on rates of healing. Any season is the right season to care for your health and get circumcised.
“And a strong word of advice: Remember, even if you are circumcised, you can still get HIV. To ensure that you and your partner are fully protected, it is essential always to use a condom.”
Also speaking at the event, Health Minister ’Molotsi Monyamane bemoaned the adverse toll the pandemic had taken on Basotho communities.
“It (HIV/AIDS) is a burden to our economy and jeopardizes the future of our people by affecting those who are most productive as well as increasing children’s vulnerability to infection,” said Dr Monyamane.
“There is compelling scientific evidence on VMMC which shows its capacity to reduce men’s individual risk to acquiring HIV by 60 percent. Ladies and gentlemen, 60 percent is a high figure, especially in the context of high HIV prevalence and low male circumcision prevalence is in our country.
“In the context of Lesotho, data shows that five male circumcisions can avert one infection. This is bio-medical HIV prevention that shows measurable results with very high return on investment.
“Without trying to compare strategies one against another, it is clear that treatment is for life while VMMC is a once off procedure that will contribute to the lowering of HIV incidence.”
He said that the Ministry of Health had committed to offer VMMC as a routine procedure in all its hospitals despite challenges related to the availability of resources, adding that they were working to scale up VMMC services in the country to meet their target of 80 percent.
“VMMC is offered as a package and not only as a surgical procedure. It has contributed immensely to increasing the number of men who test for HIV and get to know their status,” Dr Monyamane said.