HIV battle: Uganda tests out rubber band circumcision

June 17, 2014 5:03 am
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As well as Uganda, the device is being used in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan countries/AFP
As well as Uganda, the device is being used in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan countries/AFP
KAMPALA, Jun 17 – With trousers around his ankles, Justin Igalla awaits a tight rubber band for his foreskin, an innovative non-surgical technique rolling out in several African nations to encourage circumcision and cut HIV infection rates.

The simple device – two plastic rings and an elastic band – cuts off blood supply to the foreskin, which then shrivels and is removed with the band after a week.

“I felt nothing, not even a little discomfort,” Igalla said after a procedure taking just minutes, noting there was no blood – unlike traditional circumcision where the foreskin is sliced off by knife – thus reducing the risk of infection.

Igalla, a father of two, said he opted to have his foreskin taken off for “health reasons”.

Scientists have found that male circumcision can significantly reduce the chances of HIV infection because the foreskin has a higher concentration of HIV-receptors than the rest of the penis and is prone to tears during intercourse, providing HIV an entry point.

As well as Uganda, the device is being used in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan countries. All have been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “priority” states where the risk of acquiring HIV is high and male circumcision, and access to conventional surgical procedures, is low.

Uganda hopes the device, called PrePex, will convince adult men to be circumcised as part of the battle against AIDS, now resurgent in the East African nation after years of decline, with as many as 80,000 people dying of the disease every year.

From a peak of 18 percent infected in 1992, Uganda’s “ABC” strategy – Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom – helped slash rates to 6.4 percent in 2005.

But rates have crept back up, to 7.2 percent in 2012. As many as 1.8 million people in the country now live with HIV, and a million children have been orphaned after their parents died of AIDS.

The makers of PrePex boast that a man “can resume work and almost all daily activities shortly after the procedure,” with the device “designed to be placed, worn, and removed with minimal disruption”, although they should abstain from sex for six weeks afterwards.

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