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Themba Malinga decided to get tested for HIV after attending an ILO HIV prevention session at his workplace.

Feature | Eswatini | 31 July 2019
MBABANE– It took Themba Malinga some time to pluck up the courage to get circumcised, but the 24-year-old security guard is relieved he went ahead.

“I was scared about the whole process but with the information I had received, I was determined to get circumcised,” he said. “I feel more confident and I am happy this decision helped me to finally get tested for HIV, so I know my status.”

Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland) has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, estimated at 26 per cent of adults in a total population of 1.2 million.

With compelling evidence that male circumcision can reduce the risk of heterosexually-acquired HIV in men by 60 per cent, the government decided to launch a national programme in January 2011, to raise awareness and encourage voluntary medical procedures.

Themba Malinga started thinking about getting circumcised after attending an HIV prevention training session at his workplace, Gridlock Security. The session was organized by the ILO, which is backing the government’s campaign through its existing national workplace HIV programme.

“The workplace is an effective entry point for HIV prevention and to provide sexually active men with the necessary information about circumcision,” said the ILO’s Khombi Nkonde.

“As they come to work every day, we can reach them with messages that highlight the benefits and help to dispel myths and misconceptions. We collaborate with health specialists and accompany the men in their decision-making process,” he added.

Battling myths

The training sessions allow space for discussion on concerns and misunderstandings about circumcision. One of the most common myths is that the foreskin, once removed, is used to make a spice; that its removal reduces libido and that the operation is very painful.

Nkonde acknowledges that it can be hard to sell the idea in a culture which is not used to circumcision.

“We deal with these issues very carefully, by explaining the scientific facts and by using champions and trusted personalities like traditional leaders or football players who have been circumcised and had a good experience,” she explained.

Workplaces partnering with the project have an HIV/AIDS committee in place, a network of peer educators and a workplace policy and programme. These are helpful for providing on-going support and information, since men often need time to make the decision following the training sessions. Employers are encouraged to be flexible and to assist workers who decide to go ahead, by adapting schedules to their medical needs.

The procedures are carried out by qualified doctors and trained nurses in properly equipped settings, such as government or private clinics. They also provide follow-up care.

Insisting on condom use

However, CloepasSibanda, from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, stressed it was not a substitute for condom use.

“There is a danger that circumcised men will feel they are invincible from HIV, hence the need to emphasize consistent and correct condom use even after circumcision,” he said.

The ILO promotes circumcision as part of a combined prevention package that includes counselling and testing; treatment for Sexually Transmitted Infections, (STI), and information about safer sex practices and the correct, consistent use of male and female condoms.

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