An advisory board made up of Luo leaders from the Nyanza region of Kenya on Monday gave their support for a voluntary medical male circumcision program, a decision that Kenyan officials say is a significant step in the region's fight against HIV/AIDS, Kenya's Daily Nation reports.
The discussion of the program took place during the fourth meeting of a series under the Nyanza Task Force on Male Circumcision and the research team of Kawango Agot and Jeremiah Achola Ndinya. The meeting was led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Luo, and was attended by medical experts, lawmakers and members of the Luo Council of Elders. According to the Daily Nation, the previous meetings made little progress on the issue because the council feared the program would infringe on the group's culture.
Medical experts at the meeting -- including representatives of UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, Kenya's National AIDS/STIs Control Programme and the Kisumu Randomised Controlled Research center -- reported evidence that showed male circumcision could reduce the number of new HIV/AIDS cases by as much as 60%. "We must face the reality," Odinga said at the meeting, adding, "We should not just say that it is not our culture. We should emphasize more on the reason we are doing it."
Dalmas Otieno, public service minister, said the positive aspects of Luo culture that would set the group apart from others should be revived, rather than focusing on male circumcision as a non-traditional practice. "Let's save our people to love our culture," he said. Council Chair Ker Riaga Ogallo said the program would have the support of the council if it remained voluntary and for medical purposes, rather than as a right of passage. Ker Ogallo said that HIV/AIDS is "killing us and we are going to kill it. But do not kill our integrity. Don't kill what makes us Luos."
Kenya has an HIV prevalence of 7.4%, with 1.4 million Kenyan adults living with the virus, according to the latest survey from the National AIDS/STIs Control Programme. The Nyanza region contributes to 50% of the country's HIV cases, the survey found. Agot, the study coordinator in Kisumu, said that the launch of an official national policy on male circumcision is the next step, adding that in the past the program was only able to train people. "We now want to move into service provision," Agot said (Menya/Otieno, Daily Nation, 9/24).