When in 2008 the government launched Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) as one way of fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS, Patrick Ojamoo showed no interest. In Bubango Village in Busia County where he comes from, circumcision is not traditionally practised.
But one day, the 42-year-old father of five’s encounter with a physician at Port Victoria Hospital changed his perception. “Dr Alex Onyango told me there was a correlation between circumcision and the spread of HIV. He said the prevalence was high in areas where people are not circumcised,” he recalls.
Prof Kawango Agot, a lead researcher at World Health Organisation, explains that VMMC was rolled out in Kenya after research showed a possible relationship between circumcision and the spread of HIV and Aids.
“Research conducted in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa in selected areas where HIV prevalence rate was high informed the launch of VMMC in Nyanza, Teso, Turkana, Nairobi and Busia in Western where the level of male circumcision is relatively lower,” says Prof Kawango who is also in charge of Impact Research and Development Organisation which is implementing VMMC initiative in Nyanza, Western and other parts of the country.
After being told about such research findings, Ojamoo resolved to go for circumcision, not sure how his wife Henrica Anyango would react to his decision. To his surprise, his wife got very excited about his decision.
He was counselled and went for the cut. His wife accompanied him to the hospital but waited outside the operation room. However, she was taken through a brief training on how to take care of her husband.
Initially, Ojamoo was nervous about walking around in a leso wrapped around his waist till he healed. But he was happy to receive a special panty (pair of shorts) that he would comfortably put on and go about my duties unnoticed for six months.
Jonathan Sunday, 40, from Bunjonjori Village and his two brothers also decided to go for the cut.
“Two of my brothers, Denis, 49 and Sameho,38, and decided to go for the cut almost a year later. By then, many people had undergone the cut in our village. In fact, they were laughing at those of us who had not been cut,” says Sunday.
They endured teasing from their circumcised village mates, who would jokingly tell them not to bathe in the same river as them: “The teasing would force us to keep off the river for even one week.”
Prof Kawango says that being purely a medical and a voluntary exercise, the cut is performed after a counselling session and testing of one’s HIV status.
“If the person to be cut is HIV-positive or suffers from STIs, we immediately start them and their partners on anti-retroviral drugs or initiate other relevant treatment,” she says.
But there have also been challenges. For example, there is no structures to ensure women are directly involved in the implementation of VMMC: “We need to invest more in that so that women, who are key players, can understand and appreciate the initiative and support the men.”
She says there is a need to make VMMC a routine in health facilities across the country.
Ojamoo, who volunteers to reach out to men in the entire Busia and sensitise them about the cut, says he doesn’t know of anyone who hasn’t undergone cut in the area.
Men attribute the success of VMMC initiative in the area to awareness creation and the fact that the cut is offered free of charge and within the reach of most men.
Since VMMC was rolled out, more than 1.2 million people have undergone the cut.