Dr. Emmanuel Njeuhmeli is the Senior Biomedical Prevention Advisor with USAID and Co-Chair of PEPFAR’s Male Circumcision Technical Working Group.
Scientific advances in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection over the past years have created unprecedented optimism that the fight against the HIV/AIDS. Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention is one such intervention that has enormous potential to alter the course of the epidemic.
Three clinical trials have definitively demonstrated that VMMC can reduce female to male transmission of HIV by approximately 60%. This means that if brought to scale to achieve a coverage of 80% of adolescents and men, VMMC could prevent 3.4 million new HIV infections and save countries in East and Southern Africa US$16.5 billion in care and treatment costs between now and 2025.
With tens of thousands of people who work in the field of HIV in Washington, D.C. —political leaders, public health experts, activists, people living with HIV—all equally committed to achieving a future free of AIDS, the time is now to examine possibilities to rapidly scale up comprehensive VMMC services. Key African political and traditional leaders from some of the hardest hit countries of East and Southern Africa will participate in a satellite session tonight to discuss challenges and solutions to accelerating VMMC scale up in 14 priority countries.
These leaders understand very well the urgency of bringing this intervention to scale. Mr. Blessing Chebundo, a member of Zimbabwe’s Parliament, was publicly tested and circumcised last month in an amazing show of leadership. I was fortunate enough to be in Zimbabwe that day and witness 44 members of Parliament in a makeshift tent at Parliament House stepping up to inspire other men in their country to do their part for HIV prevention. It was a moment I will never forget.
We know that with strong leadership, commitment and coordination this is doable. We’ve seen Kenya’s successful VMMC program where more than 400,000 voluntary medical male circumcisions have been administered since 2008. Government leadership and program flexibility have been key. In Iringa, Tanzania, local leaders and officials, with PEPFAR support, overcame human resource and infrastructure constraints and managed to exceed their targets, performing more than 100,000 VMMC since 2010. Thirty-one thousand circumcisions were performed during an eight-week campaign. Based on modeling estimates, they’ve already prevented over 14,000 new HIV infections. Surely other countries can do this too.
Preventable HIV infections occur every day among uncircumcised men in the countries of East and Southern Africa. Each day that this proven prevention method is not brought to scale represents a lost opportunity to change the course of the epidemic.
There is no time to waste, now, it’s time to act.