After months of an aggressive exercise to circumcise men, the Soka Uncobe Male Circumcision campaign that saw thousands of Swazi men removing their foreskins free of charge is coming to an end in March.
The campaign began in 2010 and was supposed to end in September 2011, but PEPFAR, the main supporting partner, provided a six month extension.
The end of this campaign translates to job losses for dozens of Swazis that had been contracted to offer their services and push the circumcision agenda, it has emerged.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Stephen Shongwe offered to explain that the Soka Uncobe campaign does not mean men will no longer be circumcised, but clinics, health centres and hospitals will continue to offer this service.
On the job losses, he said, “As with any campaign, professional services provided by staff comes to an end”.
Explaining what Soka Uncobe was all about, the PS said it was an intense, time-bound campaign which would be followed by the integration of circumcision services in the current health system in Swaziland, including health centres, private providers and hospitals.
He promised that the ministry of health would continue to implement programs of a similar nature in future. The Soka Uncobe campaign was conducted by the ministry of health through funds injected to Government by PEPFAR.
While Swazi men seemed to have welcomed the idea to get circumcised, all was not rosy in this campaign because of the many myths and misconceptions that are still associated with circumcision.
One of the most common myth that emerged from nowhere and spread around like wild fire was that the removed foreskins are taken away to make spices, but the ministry of health swiftly moved to quell such talk.
“Soka Uncobe team members managed to identify myths and misconceptions throughout the life of this campaign, but many efforts were made to remove such myths. To address the myths, the campaign held press conferences, enlisted the support of the media for newspaper and television coverage and showed a mini documentary about the procedure on Swazi TV. In addition to the mass media campaigns, there were also one-on-one sessions where concerned individuals got to receive information about circumcision”.
The PS spoke highly of the ripple effects that circumcision brings, especially with studies showing that for every three men circumcised in Swaziland, one HIV infection is averted. “Male Circumcision prevents 60% of HIV infections in men. Circumcision as an HIV prevention initiative is an effective part of the combination prevention package. In addition, circumcision brings men into health care services where they receive risk reduction counseling, condom promotion and distribution and voluntary HIV testing and counseling”.
In another matter, the PS was not forthcoming with budget issues as he could not give out information on how much money had spent on the Male Circumcision campaign.
“There are many components and implementers of the delivery of the circumcision programme, including service delivery, communications, monitoring and evaluation, waste management, supplies, logistics and coordination”.
SD first country in the world to provide en-masse circumcision
With the highest HIV infection rates, Swaziland is the first country in the whole world to stage a nationwide male circumcision plan, it was established. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Stephen Shongwe said this campaign served as the launch pad of integrated circumcision programs in Swaziland. “Over the past year, services were scaled up during the intense efforts of the campaign. This was a strategic effort to increase awareness of circumcision in Swaziland and ensure that men who are interested in the male circumcision procedure are able to access information and the procedure”.
He offered to explain that the integration over the next few years would be targeted initially at a few health centres and would expand over time. He promised that the ministry of health would continue to support Male Circumcision and would also ensure that such a service continues to be offered.
Ministry of health won’t say how many men were circumcised
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Stephen Shongwe would not give out figures on the number of Swazi men that were circumcised in the Soka Uncobe Campaign. All he could say was that “the campaign reached a significant number of Swazi men”. He said as a result of this campaign, the Soka Uncobe team is confident that the awareness created by Soka Uncobe would lead to the number of men to continue to make the choice to circumcise.