By Muna Ahmed, August 02, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tigrai Online - Gambella—The Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) program—supported by Jhpiego and funded with PEPFAR grants through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Ethiopia—has circumcised over 32,000 adult men in Gambella region since October 2009. Since the launch of the VMMC program, there is an increase in the uptake of HIV counseling and testing as well as sexually transmitted infections detection and treatment with referral and linkage facilitation to ART services.
The milestone achievement follows four years of partnership with Gambella’s Regional Health Bureau implementing effective awareness creation campaigns and providing quality comprehensive VMMC services. The program’s objective is to reach a MC prevalence of at least 80% by circumcising more than 45,000 men (age 15-49) before 2015 to comply with HIV prevention recommendations by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.
Studies show that circumcised men have a lower prevalence of HIV infection than uncircumcised men, and VMMC has been proven to reduce the risk of female-to-male sexual HIV transmission by roughly 60%. In addition, VMMC is cost effective, fairly easy to implement, and statistic modeling shows that every 5 to 15 circumcisions avert one HIV infection in high HIV-prevalence settings like Gambella. The HIV prevalence rate in the region is 6.5%, the highest in Ethiopia. HIV transmission in the region is sustained by a low level of awareness, a high quantity of itinerant farm workers, and refugees from past conflicts in neighboring South Sudan, according to Ajim Othow, Gambella Regional HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control (RHAPCO) officer.
Male Circumcision services started in three facilities in late 2009 and have grown to 26 sites including the Gambella Referral Hospital, selected health centers. “When the program was launched, generating demand for VMMC services in an ethnically diverse community like Gambella where longstanding myths about male circumcision are common was a challenge,” says Tadele Bogale, Jhpiego Ethiopia’s Deputy Country Director. “However, through strong partnerships and with the help of local mobilizers who provide accurate information and dispel misconceptions about male circumcision in the local language, the program has shown significant stride towards achieving the target in five years’ time.”
Outreach workers and community mobilizers play a very important role in the delivery of these services. Jhpiego and the regional health bureau staff have provided MC orientation for community figures, religious leaders, government officials and health extension workers as well as regional and district HIV/AIDS focal persons. “The health extension workers live with the people, so the people trust them,” explains Wiw Gach, the region’s Health Extension Program Coordinator. “Nowadays, men line up for the male circumcision campaigns. They understand the benefits of hygiene and HIV prevention. Today they see it as a must-have and want to take advantage of the fact that it’s free,” says Riang Puoch, head of the Lare Health Center where 252 men were circumcised during a two-week campaign in June 2013.
In addition, the MC provider-training component has enabled 71 nurses in the region to learn and perform the medical procedure at 26 sites throughout Gambella. The program also trained 26 group educators and counselors as well as 129 health extension workers to enhance awareness and create demand. Every MC procedure comes with an integrated package of voluntary HIV testing and counseling, information about other sexually transmitted infections, condoms and usage and other male reproductive health services.
Jhpiego, an international non-profit organization (.jhpiego.org) and affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, began working in Ethiopia in 2003 and currently partners with the Ministry of Health and local organizations to implement programs focused on improving the health of mothers and newborns as well as in the areas of HIV/AIDS prevention, health systems strengthening, pre-service education, nutrition and family planning. Jhpiego works in more than 50 countries.
For interviews and photos contact: Muna Ahmed