Zimbabwe's MPs to be circumcised in bid to fight HIV

Blessing Chebundo Blessing Chebundo was the first MP to undergo the procedure

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At least 10 Zimbabwean MP have been circumcised as part of a campaign to reduce HIV and Aids cases.

A small makeshift clinic for carrying out the procedures was erected in Parliament House in the capital Harare.

Blessing Chebundo, chairman of Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids, said his main objective was to inspire other citizens to follow suit.

Research by the UN has suggested male circumcision can reduce the spread of HIV and Aids.

A report by UNAids and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the risk of HIV infection among men could be reduced by 60%.

More than a million people in Zimbabwe are believed to be HIV-positive, with about 500,000 receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

The country was one of 13 African states identified in 2007 as a priority for the development of male circumcision programmes by the WHO and UNAids.

Mr Chebundo said more than 120 MPs and parliamentary staff had shown an interest in the circumcision programme.

Analysis

There are several reasons why circumcision may protect against HIV infection.

Specific cells in the foreskin are thought to be potential targets for HIV infection. Following circumcision, the skin under the foreskin becomes less sensitive and is less likely to bleed, reducing the risk of infection.

When Aids first began to emerge in Africa, researchers noted that men who were circumcised seemed to be less at risk of infection, but the reasons were unclear.

Trials suggest that male circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection, acquired through heterosexual intercourse, by up to 60%.

The WHO says the practice is particularly effective in countries with high HIV rates.

But it is not the whole solution. Promoting safe sex, providing people with HIV testing services and encouraging the use of male and female condoms are all seen as equally important.

Some experts also say there is a danger in sending out a message that circumcision can protect against HIV because it could lead to an increase in unprotected sex.

The BBC's Brian Hungwe, in Harare says at least 10 MPs and 13 other people had the procedure performed.

Blessing Chebundo was the first to undergo the 10-minute operation.

He told the BBC there was a possibility that some members of the executive may also attend, including President Robert Mugabe.

The circumcision programme had attracted a lot of attention in Zimbabwe, and had divided opinion, our correspondent said.

The issue was raised in parliament in September 2011, when Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe made a plea to her fellow politicians.

At the time, many MPs shunned the idea.

As well as a clinic in parliament, the initiative has seen a tent set up across the road from parliament, where counselling sessions will be held.

Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director for Aids and TB unit with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, applauded those involved, the Zimbabwe Mail reported.

"We are happy with this initiative and we are happy more leaders will come on board," he was quoted as saying.

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