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Blog: It's always wise to condomise

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Boys waiting to be circumcised at a Marie Stopes mobile clinic in Kisumu
Nairobi, 21 August 2008 (PlusNews) - During a recent trip to report on a pilot male circumcision programme in Kisumu, a part of Kenya where male circumcision is not traditionally practiced, I was allowed to sit in on a pre-op counselling session.

The counsellor gave information on hygiene and the signs of infection, and practical advice like placing a cold metal padlock against the genitals as a sort of cold shower equivalent to avert the temptation of masturbating during the six-week healing period.

Afterwards, he asked the guys why they'd decided to be circumcised.

Most said they'd heard about the protection circumcision offered against HIV, while others hadn't actually come to get it done, they were just curious.

One of them questioned the wisdom of an invasive procedure like circumcision when South Africa's former deputy president and possible future president, Jacob Zuma, said he took a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive woman because it would minimise the risk of contracting HIV.

Another said he was doing it to escape the fate of some ethnic Luos in central Kenya who were forcibly circumcised, sometimes with tools as unkind as a broken bottle, by rival ethnic groups during the country's post-election violence.

How certain was the counsellor that circumcision actually cut down the chances of contracting HIV? This question kept coming up. He explained patiently and clearly that the men should keep on using condoms, as circumcision was not a guarantee against HIV.

But isn't it possible that many circumcised men, lulled into a false sense of security by their missing foreskins and unaware of the continued risks, will be less inclined to use condoms?

Various ethnic communities in Africa traditionally only remove part of the foreskin, still leaving men at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

AIDS programmes need carefully tailored messages to ensure that condoms stay at the forefront of HIV prevention.

As more African countries embark on ambitious national male circumcision programmes, one can't help wondering whether the advice that it is safer to always use condoms will still be heard above the circumcision din.

kr/kn/he

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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