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Programme puts male health first

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
The Mpumalanga Department of Health is one step closer to achieving its goal of reaching 80 percent of uncircumcised men through its Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) programme.

This was after the department opened a VMMC unit donated by Anova at Matikwane Hospital in Bushbuckridge.

The community of Bushbuckridge is known for sending boys to initiation school as part of a cultural practice.

David Mdluli, chief health director in Ehlanzeni District, under which Bushbuckridge falls, said even though some people in the area prefer to go to initiation school, the brand-new facility is available to those who prefer medical male circumcision.

“The new building must be used by the community. We know that when community members need to be circumcised in Bushbuckridge, they go the traditional route of going to the mountain. However, there are those who prefer medical male circumcision and this facility will cater for them,” said Mdluli.

The primary goal of implementing the VMMC programme is to achieve 80 percent VMMC coverage among uncircumcised, HIV-negative men between the ages of 15 and 49 years by the end of the year.

By increasing the coverage of VMMC in Mpumalanga, the department hopes to reduce the number of new HIV infections and achieve net savings in treatment-related costs.

“The implementation of medical male circumcision is informed by the South African National Strategic Plan for HIV and Aids and STIs 2012 – 2016 which aims to reduce 60 percent of new HIV infections by 2016. Mpumalanga began providing VMMC services as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy in October 2010,” said Mpumalanga Department of Health spokesperson Chistopher Nobela.

Nobela added that studies in other countries have shown that achieving universal coverage of VMMC can greatly reduce the rate of HIV transmission.

“However, existing VMMC programmes in Mpumalanga have encountered significant barriers to achieving the scale-up required to realise public health impact,” Nobela said

Nobela said the implementation of the VMMC programme is done in partnership with five implementing partners allocated per sub-district. Bushbuckridge as a sub-district is supported by Anova Health Institute, which built the Bushbuckridge VMMC unit. 

The Anova Health Institute is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving health with particular emphasis on HIV.

In South Africa, Anova is strengthening and supporting the public healthcare system through technical assistance by providing capacity building, clinical expertise and facilitating health technology expansion.

Last year during his budget vote, Mpumalanga Department of Health MEC Gillion Mashego announced that a total of 54 public health facilities offer VMMC services in the province. Out of 54 facilities, 28 are hospitals and 26 are Primary Health Care facilities.

MEC Mashego said his department’s plan is to continue to work closely with general practitioners and traditional initiation school surgeons to increase access to VMMC services points.

“We are targeting to perform 150 000 circumcisions in the 2015/16 financial year,” Mashego said.

The Department of Health also
acknowledged that the implementation of VMMC cannot be provided as a stand-alone programme but has to be offered as a comprehensive sexual reproductive health package targeting not only men but their partners as well.

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