The Director of the Department of HIV/ AIDS Prevention and Care in the Ministry of Health, Dr Refeletswe Lebelonyane, said they view the school holiday as a long period in which the boys could have time to be circumcised and heal.
Lebelonyane was speaking at the launch of the school campaign for this year in Gaborone last Thursday.
She said that this year Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) campaign kick started on the 24th June and will end 31st July. She said since the adoption of the SMC School campaign last year a total of 12 602 students had been circumcised during school holidays.
“As we speak, a total of 75 604 clients have been circumcised since inception of the programme in 2009,” she said.
Lebelonyane said this is the only programme that targets men to protect the boy child and they had targeted 11 000 boys. She explained that Botswana adopted SMC as an add-on strategy to the existing HIV prevention strategies.
“This decision was informed by the study conducted in some of the sub Saharan African countries which indicated that circumcision reduces the chances of men getting infected with HIV by 60 percent,” said Lebelonyane.
She added that the country has made significant strides against HIV/ AIDS but, however, conceded that the war against the pandemic is still far from being won hence the need for sustained prevention measures to achieve zero New Infections by 2016.
Lebelonyane said the goal of the National Strategy for SMC is to contribute to the reduction of HIV infection rates by scaling up SMC throughout the country to reach a prevalence rate of 80 percent (480 000) among 0-49 years old HIV negative males by 2016.
Lebelonyane further said although they may be challenges, culture is not one of them. She cited Ngamiland as one of the places where boys are circumcised at an early age “So, because they circumcise at an early age it ends up giving us a low turn up,” she said.
Lebelonyane mentioned places such as Kgalagadi, saying “we need to be sensitive about circumcision issue and we need to be empowered on how to approach people regarding the circumcision issue”.
She added that they need to sensitize on how they market their product.
She said the benefits of SMC include reducing Urinary Tract Infection; prevents inflammation of the glands and the foreskin.
“It also lowers risk of penile infection and cancer of the cervix which is caused by persistent infection with high risk cancer inducing types of human papilomavirus,” she explained.
Lebelonyane said some challenges that affect SMC service delivery during school holidays include shortage of staff in some districts, adding that sometimes demand for circumcision surpasses SMC staff. She added that transport is another challenge, saying it is not easy for DHMT to reach some hard to reach areas due to the terrain.
To this end, she said that, as a way of mitigating issues of shortage of transport, the Ministry of Health, in partnership with NACA, have purchased 5 mobile clinics to be used to take SMC services to hard to reach areas.
“The mobile trucks will be used in the current schools campaign,” she said.
Lebelonyane added that the procured mobile clinics have theatre rooms inside.
The SMC National Coordinator, Conrad Ntsuape, chipped in to explain that Botswana is predominantly a youthful country and 67 percent of its population are youth.
“Young people remain at the centre of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic rates in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact and potential for positive change,” he said, adding that there is a low HIV prevalence rate in the age group 15-19 but with much higher rates among youth aged 25-29.
Ntsuape said youth, as a group, provide a captive audience that can easily be motivated to undergo SMC. He said they target 13-20 years of age in juniors and Secondary schools to produce results which can turn the tide of HIV incidence in the country.
“The programme in schools is on-going; all Junior and Secondary schools are targeted, including both public and private schools,” said Ntsuape.