The southern African nation of Zimbabwe has launched a bold effort to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It aims to circumcise 1.2 million men in seven years.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, and circumcision has been shown to reduce a man’s risk of contracting the virus.
The country’s plan is especially ambitious given that Zimbabwe currently has just eight circumcision clinics. To achieve the intended goal, the clinics have had to make the process as efficient as possible.
“Initially, when we started, it was taking up to two hours” to circumcise each man, said Roy Dhlamini. He manages Zimbabwe’s circumcision program for the group Population Services International. “We’d see something like eight clients per day on average.”
That wasn’t fast enough. So Dhlamini and his team looked for ways to speed up the process.
“What this has resulted in is that a doctor, with support of his team or her team, can actually do between seven and ten clients in an hour,” he said.
A single clinic, in Harare, can now circumcise around 200 men per day.
On a recent day, one of those men was 28-year-old Tinashe Damba. “I heard that if you get circumcised, you have a better chance of not contracting the deadly HIV disease,” he said.
His turn came, and he went into the operating room with four other men. Inside the room, doctors worked as a team.
“One doctor anaesthetizes, the next doctor will do the procedure,” said Roy Dhlamini. “Whilst the other doctor is doing the procedure, you have someone doing the bandages.”
Nurses assist. Each health professional carries out a specific task like workers on an assembly line, although head nurse Fortune Nyahuye insists they don’t treat clients like gadgets on a conveyor belt.
“It’s not like we are doing this as a factory,” she said. “In every medical institution there are people who do certain things at certain stages.”
Just thirty minutes after he went into the operating room, Tinashe Damba walked out, smiling.
“During the operation I didn’t [feel] any pain,” he said, although he likely will feel pain when the anaesthetic wears off. He was expected to heal in about six weeks.
Nationwide, Zimbabwe is now circumcising about 350 men per day. Even at that rate, it will be impossible for the country to reach its goal of more than a million men by 2018, so Population Services International is rolling out mobile circumcision clinics and aims to open eleven new stationary clinics by the end of this year.