The Covid-19 lockdown has negatively affected South Africa’s medical circumcision programme and far fewer men have been circumcised in the past year than in previous years, health NGO Right to Care reported.
The NGO said the consequences of this are serious.
Sizwe Hlongwane, deputy chief of party for voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) at health NGO Right to Care, said: “We will have a better picture on the effect of Covid-19 on key HIV indicators later this year, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Covid-19 has affected the country’s HIV programme. Worryingly, we are seeing more men test positive for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at our VMMC clinics than we saw pre-Covid-19.
“The increase in STIs are cause for great concern. STIs drive HIV infection. When left untreated, an STI will ulcerate and become a thriving access point for HIV to easily enter the body. Uncircumcised men are far more vulnerable to STIs like herpes and syphilis,” he said.
“VMMC services were suspended for five months last year. With facilities repurposed for the Covid-19 response, men wanting to circumcise were often not able to.
“Transportation, which Right to Care offers to support those wanting to circumcise, was also negatively affected because we put strict Covid-19 adherence protocols in place – allowing only 50% occupancy of vehicles transporting our clients. Services started again and by the end of 2020, the programme had gained momentum,” Hlongwani said.
Medical male circumcision has been a core component of South Africa’s HIV prevention strategy since 2010, preventing new HIV infections and saving lives. Circumcision reduces the chance of heterosexual HIV transmission by as much as 60% and also helps reduce ulcerative STIs in men. In addition, males who are circumcised do not transmit the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer in their female partners.
By contributing to HIV reduction, circumcision also significantly reduces the costs of HIV care and treatment thereby freeing up resources in the health system.
Hlongwane continued: “Our facilities are geared for circumcisions and we are making up for lost time. Even during the current third wave, our facilities are safe and men are encouraged to [be] circumcised.
“Particular attention is paid to safety at facilities during the pandemic. Facilities have dedicated entrances to the circumcision areas. Everyone is screened for Covid-19 before they may enter and masks are checked. The number of people in the facility is controlled. Socially distant seating is arranged and healthcare staff wear full personal protective equipment,” he assured.
“Right to Care calls on all South African men who have not been circumcised to contact our Right to Care circumcision call centre at 082-808-6152 to find the nearest health facility and book their free procedures. During Men’s Health Month in June, during winter and beyond, our message is to circumcise for your own health and the health of your partner or partners,” said Hlongwane.
“After a safe circumcision, healing takes approximately six weeks and your healthcare worker will tell you everything you need to know about cleaning the wound and the follow up appointments. There is no difference in sexual desire, function or sensitivity after a man has been circumcised. Time off work is typically a couple of days. You can ask for a doctor’s certificate for your employer.
“Even when a man has been circumcised, he should still use condoms,” he stressed.
Right to Care is supporting the National Department of Health (NDOH) with the country’s circumcision programme in 18 districts across the Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape, North West and Mpumalanga, South Africa’s circumcision programme began in 2010. Right to Care has supported the NDOH’s circumcision drive since 2012 having completed over 1.2-million circumcisions.
Book an appointment by calling or sending a “please call me” to the Right to Care circumcision call centre on 082-808-6152.