ZIMBABWE: Neonatal Circumcision Yet to Gain Ground

  • by Ignatius Banda (bulawayo)
  • Inter Press Service

'I have been advised about the benefits of circumcision for my baby concerning HIV, but he is just a child. I should not be thinking about things like that,' said Sikhosana about her four-month-old son.

Sikhosana said she has not met any mothers who had their babies circumcised and she does not want to be a 'pioneer'. 'I will see as time goes,' she said, as she chatted among other new mothers who nodded in agreement.

Nurses in Bulawayo’s high density council clinics say Sikhosana’s response — and that of other mothers — to neonatal male circumcision is not isolated.

Neonatal circumcision was introduced in 2010 by the ministry of health and child welfare. But it is only beginning to gain public attention as some mothers remain in the dark about the program and its benefits.

But with the country’s slow uptake of adult male circumcision, neonatal circumcision is seen as a sure way to reduce new infections in the long term. The Zimbabwe National Aids Council has already noted that the low level of male circumcision could reverse the gains the country has made against HIV.

According to the ministry of health and child welfare only 5,000 Zimbabwean men have been circumcised since 2007. This could make the circumcision of babies a more practical approach toward reversing what the World Health Organisation still sees as the high level of HIV/AIDS in the country.

But the reluctance seen among mothers like Sikhosana has shown that there is still a long way to go before the practice becomes an established one, says midwife Thubelihle Mkhwebu. Many new mothers have said the HIV fight ought to be confined to adults as they do not want their babies to be 'cut up'. 'We still have a lot of convincing to do,' said Mkhwebu.

While male circumcision is a rite of passage still observed here among some communities, cultural activists say it is a dying tradition in Zimbabwe. And many are not keen on it. 'Not many new mothers quite understand why an infant has to be circumcised and many claim this is not part of their culture and even their religion,' Mkhwebu said.

These concerns come as the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief and its implementing partners donated male circumcision medical kits worth five million dollars in September. This is a first major donation towards the male circumcision drive that has also targeted male babies in the country.

The ministry of health and child welfare aims to have 80 percent sexually active adults and newborn male babies circumcised by 2015. But if what is happening in local clinics is anything to go by, it has become apparent that not all new mothers have met the neonatal circumcision call with enthusiasm. And it is not solely mothers who remain unconvinced about the need for neonatal circumcision, but fathers too.

Nyarai Moyo, a new mother attending the post-natal clinic in Nkulumane suburb said that she has discussed the idea of having her son circumcised with her husband. But he is not convinced that there is a need to do so. 'I wouldn’t mind as long this (circumcision) seeks to protect my child. But this is a decision I cannot make alone,' Moyo said.

'My husband has not taken it very keenly, pointing out that he himself is not circumcised so why should his child be burdened with that? He says the child will decide for himself when he is grown up,' she said.

The slow response to neonatal male circumcision could also be attributed to what the country’s 2009 Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey noted as a continued lack of comprehensive knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS among many Zimbabweans.

The understanding of HIV/AIDS, the survey said, tends to increase with education and wealth. And because the reluctance to have male babies circumcised largely comes from mothers who attend clinics in poor working-class suburbs, there are concerns it could take some time for attitudes change.

There are, however, pockets of hope. Jennifer Muza, a self-employed mother of one-year-old boy, said she is willing to have her child circumcised.

'I have never thought about it, but why not? I can have him circumcised. It’s no big deal really,' said Muza, oozing the kind of confidence health workers says has so far been sorely lacking amongst mothers. It is a confidence that is yet to be translated into action.

But meanwhile, for mothers like Sikhosana, the responsibility for circumcision is being left to their children once they reach adulthood.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service