The health department has denied media reports in a national newspaper last week that plans to introduce the non-surgical medical male circumcision device, PrePex, to the government's medical male circumcision programme, have been put on hold because it's an Israeli product.
According to the department's medical male circumcision programme manager, Dayanund Loykissoonlal, no decision has been made yet. "The minister will make his decision on the basis of our research findings, which will be concluded in February 2015. We need to make sure that whatever device we implement in the country must be safe and effective for South Africans to use. It must do what it's supposed to do – it must be effective for HIV prevention."
PrePex consists of an elastic band that compresses the foreskin, restricting blood supply until the foreskin dries and can be cut off after a week of the device being administered, without stitches, bleeding or anaesthetic.
Endorsed by WHO Trade union Cosatu has called for a boycott of Israeli products and has voiced its objection to PrePex because of its Israeli origins.
But Loykissoonlal says research results, and not politics, will determine the department's decision on whether or not to introduce the device. PrePex was the first non-surgical male circumcision device to be endorsed or 'prequalified' by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in May 2013.
Research has shown that medical male circumcision – the removal of the entire foreskin of the penis – can reduce a male's risk of contracting HIV through heterosexual sex by 60%.
South Africa first introduced medical male circumcision in 2010, and has since circumcised 1.4-million men. The government's national strategic plan on HIV for 2012 to 2016 aims to have medically circumcised 80% of men between 15 and 49 – or 4.3-million men – by the end of the 2015/2016 financial year.
Modelling studies published in the medical journal Plos Med in 2011 showed that if South Africa reaches this target, more than 20% of new HIV infections – or one million could be averted by 2025. According to study projections, about five medical male circumcisions are needed to prevent a single case of HIV infection.
South Africa is however not on track with reaching this target, and, is looking at ways to speed up the programme. The introduction of a non-surgical device, in addition to surgical procedures where doctors cut off the foreskin, is one such way.
PrePex is currently being tested in eight pilot sites in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West to test the feasibility of introducing the device as part of its medical circumcision campaign.
"We have completed the first phase of the research, in line with WHO recommendations, looking at the pilot implementation of the device. We still have the other two phases, the passive and active surveillance, left to do. Active surveillance is putting the device out there in the actual health settings and doing about 1 000. PrePex placements on clients and following them up rigorously. And passive is looking at another 9 000."
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