For Chief Saidi Mlumbe, of Zomba District in Southern Malawi, supporting voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) is a family affair.
Mlumbe, the senior chief of a Yao tribe that practices traditional circumcision, and his wife, Stella Mlumbe, accompanied their eldest son Zwelithini, 16, to the Mayera Health Center in Zomba. There, the younger Mlumbe participated in HIV prevention services and underwent VMMC, a key intervention against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The chief’s presence at the December mini-campaign sent a powerful message to those in attendance, including junior chiefs who turned out to welcome him.
Although Chief Mlumbe was circumcised traditionally when he was young, he said he supports VMMC because of the health benefits associated with it. Results from clinical trials show that the procedure reduces the risk of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60 percent.
“To show that I and my family are for VMMC, we have escorted our son Zwelithini here to be medically circumcised,” said Mlumbe, who is in his mid-50s.
The chief’s son was among 2,464 men circumcised from December 9–23, 2013. This total number of men circumcised reached 87 percent of the district campaign target. Zomba is one of the districts where Jhpiego is implementing a four-year VMMC initiative as part of Sankhani Moyenela (Smart Choices), a project funded by the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In this rural farming and tobacco growing district, more than half of the population (52.6 percent) are 18 years old or younger.
“Just look at me, I am just coming from the circumcision bed, but I am able to walk properly, the procedure was painless,” said Zwelithini, who has pledged to promote VMMC among youth in the Zomba District.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an estimated two-thirds of African men are already circumcised for cultural, religious or medical reasons. Non-circumcising communities in Southern Africa and parts of East Africa have significantly higher HIV prevalence than communities that circumcise. In 2007, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS recommended male circumcision as an additional strategy for HIV prevention in settings with high HIV prevalence and low levels of male circumcision.
Chief Mlumbe first voiced his public support of VMMC during the commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 1, during which he spoke eloquently on the health benefits of VMMC. Mlumbe urged men to go for VMMC and jokingly requested women in his area to learn to say “no” to uncircumcised men, noting that VMMC also benefits women.
Stella Mlumbe is also championing VMMC because of the relationship between VMMC, HIV and cervical cancer. HIV-positive women have a weakened immune system and, as a result, are at greater risk of acquiring human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer, a leading killer of women in the developing world. Women with male partners who have undergone VMMC are at a reduced risk of cervical cancer regardless of their HIV status. “We cannot afford to die from cervical cancer when we know that it is preventable. I also encourage men who genuinely love their spouses to go for VMMC,” said Mrs. Mlumbe, whose remarks energized the women present to take part in VMMC activities.
Chief Mlumbe joins other African chiefs in support of VMMC. Addressing a conference on VMMC Demand Creation in Lusaka, Zambia, recently, Loyal Chief Mumena of the Kaonde people of Solwezi in the country’s Northwestern province told researchers, academics, communication experts, development partners and government representatives in attendance that VMMC is an African solution to an African public health threat—a one-time, lifelong prevention intervention.
For more information, download Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision: Creating an AIDS-Free Generation PDF