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Amongst Friends – Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision in South Africa
Thabani Hlongwane, a 33-year-old man living in Johannesburg, is enthusiastic about referring men for voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). Thabani was circumcised in January 2019 at Hillbrow Community Health Center (CHC), one of the public health facilities in South Africa supported by the PEPFAR-funded USAID VMMC Project. Implemented by a consortium of partners led by URC, the project contracts private health practitioners to work alongside government staff to deliver free and safe VMMC services. VMMC has been shown to reduce men’s risk of contracting HIV by up to 60 percent and has been part of South Africa’s comprehensive HIV prevention strategy since 2010.
Thabani returned to the facility for his post-circumcision check-ups, saying “they treated me nicely here” and “I feel great. I will bring my friends.” In February, on one of his days off from work, Thabani was back with his friend Lungisane Maphalala. Before Lungisane went into the theater for his operation, Thabane reassured him and said, “you will not be ashamed of yourself after this” – his way of saying that he was proud of Lungisane for making the right choice.
The USAID VMMC Project employs a range of service delivery modalities to provide high-quality, high-volume and cost-effective VMMC services in six provinces of South Africa. In addition to public health facilities, VMMC service delivery points include mobile units, networks of private general practitioners, and clinics specializing in men’s health. “We implement an efficient service delivery model and apply innovative approaches to sustain demand for VMMC”, says Dr James Ndirangu, Chief of Party for the USAID VMMC Project. Since its start in 2017, the project has circumcised more than 300,000 men in 18 months, prospectively averting many HIV infections.
Thabani says that many men of his age would like to get circumcised but are ashamed that they have postponed it for so long. He tells them “what are you waiting for? You can still do it now.” According to him, the requirement for six weeks’ sexual abstinence after the procedure is also a deterrent for men, but he was glad to have received practical advice from the center’s staff to assist him with adhering to the guidelines.
The center’s HIV Counselor, Londeka Marhwa, indicates that she and her colleagues motivate clients to inform their friends and family members about the free HIV testing and VMMC services available at Hillbrow CHC. She commended Thabani for encouraging his friend to undergo VMMC and for accompanying Lungisane to the health center.
After his post-circumcision review, a smiling Lungisane greeted Thabani, saying “it was like you’ve said, I did not feel any pain.” On their way out of the facility, Thabani told Counselor Londeka “I will be back on Monday with another friend from work.”
March 12, 2019