The Centre for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (CHAPS) leads a consortium that supports the Swaziland Ministry of Health to implement the national strategic voluntary medical male circumcision plan, which is part of the country’s efforts to keep men and boys free from HIV.
The centre’s work demonstrates how voluntary medical male circumcision programmes can be an important entry point to expanded health programming for men and boys, helping to ensure they are reached with a broad spectrum of vital health messages.
Swaziland has been particularly affected by the AIDS epidemic. In 2015, more than a quarter of 15-49-year-olds were living with HIV. As part of efforts to reduce new HIV infections, Swaziland has developed a plan that it hopes will help to keep young men and boys free from HIV.
Swaziland estimates that its Male Circumcision Strategic and Operational Plan for HIV Prevention 2014–2018 will avert 31 000 new HIV infections by 2028, which will result in cost savings of approximately US$ 370 million by 2035.
Studies have shown medical male circumcision to be around 60% effective in preventing female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV. Swaziland is taking a new and innovative approach to engaging men and boys in HIV prevention efforts and encouraging them to take up the offer of voluntary medical male circumcision to help protect them from becoming infected with HIV.
Lihawu three-day camps
In April 2016, CHAPS and Kwakha Indvodza, a male mentoring project in Swaziland, piloted a new initiative to encourage young men and adolescent boys to become respectful and responsible adults. The initiative, Lihawu (“shield”), is a three-day camp where 25 to 30 adolescent boys and young men aged 15–29 years are guided, mentored and encouraged to hold open and honest discussions about sexuality, sex and sexual health, relationships, gender equality and respect.
The camps are rooted in a Bantu rite of passage tradition and promote the Swazi cultural heritage of ubuntu. They use the traditional Swazi lisango, men’s meeting spaces, where they take part in challenges, games and goal-setting, as well as talking openly about the values of traditional and modern practices.
The camps also provide the opportunity for the men and boys to talk about HIV and participants are offered voluntary HIV counselling and testing. Voluntary medical male circumcision is also offered to participants should they wish to undergo the procedure to help protect them against HIV infection.
To date, more than 350 adolescent boys and young men have participated in Lihawu camps, with many taking up the opportunity to have an HIV test. People testing positive for HIV are directly linked to treatment and care programmes as part of the camp’s services. The Lihawu camps have also seen an uptake in voluntary medical male circumcision, with almost half of all participants opting for the procedure.
Saving lives through soccer
CHAPS also run a successful soccer programme to disseminate information about HIV prevention in the hope of increasing uptake of voluntary medical male circumcision in Swaziland. Through support from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, uptake among 15–29-year-olds increased from 2770 in 2015 to 4490 in 2016.
The centre has also appointed a local hero, international soccer player Dennis Yuki Masina, as an ambassador for voluntary medical male circumcision.
Empowering health advisers
CHAPS has also conceptualized and rolled out a unique training programme for health outreach workers. The programme uses best practices and tools from a number of sectors to empower outreach workers as a trusted source of health-care information in the community, particularly on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and tuberculosis. The health advisers are equipped with a number of approaches to engage people, especially older men, and link them to essential health services, including voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention.