Swazi King Endorses Mass Circumcision in Bid to Fight HIV
July 22, 2011
In an effort to slow the spread of HIV in Africa's last absolute monarchy, the US government is funding a $30 million campaign that aims to medically circumcise 80 percent of Swazi males ages 14 to 49 within one year. Studies based in Africa have shown the procedure reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by up to 60 percent.
Yet despite a massive advertising campaign urging men to "Circumcise and Conquer," only 3,000 males presented for the operation in the first six months of the outreach. That may change, given the recent endorsement of King Mswati III.
Speaking to thousands of his subjects in the southern town of Mankayane on July 15, the king said, "It seems fitting that our men and young boys should be given an initiative that will help them fight this disease. This virus I shall liken to a terrorist. It is here to finish off our people." Circumcision was common in Swaziland until the 19th century.
"The goal is to have zero new infections by the year 2020," said US Ambassador Earl Irving. Clearly, this will be a struggle: Four out of 10 pregnant Swazi women tested at clinics are HIV-positive, according to Health Minister Benedict Xaba.
The king's buy-in is a marked departure from some of his previous actions on HIV. A decade ago, he told parliament that those infected should be "branded and sterilized." He has 13 wives, which observers say sets a bad example in a country where multiple partnerships are seen as a major driver of the epidemic. And he has not said whether he himself will undergo circumcision.
Even so, organizers are hoping the campaign gains momentum from the blessing of Mswati, who is known to his people as "the mouth that speaks no lies."
Agence France Presse
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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