"Operation Vhura": Mugabe to circumcise all men

HARARE – The Zimbabwe Mail can reveal that Robert Mugabe is planning an audacious and extraordinary program to forcibly circumcise all male citizens in the country to combat HIV/Aids, a high ranking army officer said on Friday.

Earlier, reports quoted Defence Minister Emmerson "Ngwena" Mnangagwa, saying the country’s armed forces should seriously consider the procedure, as another way to stop the ever-increasing spread of the virus.

The minister’s speech about circumcision and HIV/Aids was read on his behalf to army and police officers at a seminar in Nyanga.

"I want to plead with all our senior officers in our uniformed forces to seriously consider the matter of male circumcision," stated Mnangagwa’s speech.

Doctors and nurses were apparently already being specially trained to provide the "full package" to the men in uniform, said the minister.

According to Mnangagwa, great success was achieved with similar intervention at the department of health, where it was found that infection rates of HIV/Aids dropped by up to 60% among circumcised men.

The brutal defence Minister is favoured to succeed Robert Mugabe as leader of Zanu PF and this latest pronouncement has sent chilling waves across rank and file in the uniformed forces.

Our reporter made a follow-up on the Minister’s statement on late Friday afternoon and he was told by a senior army officer at Army Head Quarters that the plan was to circumcise members of the uniformed forces first before they lead a full scale national programme on all male citizens.

"Young man, this is a national program code-named "Operation Vhura" (meaning, cut it open), it will be initiated by us, as members of the national security forces, the police, and prison officers. From there, we will come to your place and ask your wife and kids to take a walk while we work on your thing. It is a national service in a war against HIV/Aids, and in a war there are no volunteers" he said in a broad smile threatening to start on me.

"Our medical staff has been undergoing training in Kampala, Uganda, courtesy of Comrade President Yoweri Museveni, and they are ready to role-out the program." Chef, (meaning President Mugabe) has already made up his mind about this and he has ordered us to clean up the nation before he retires," said the burly officer.

But, uncollaborated reports says the program is to coincide with the country’s next general election campaign in which Emmerson Mnangagwa is likely to be the Zanu PF candidate and circumcision will be used as the basis of violence.

Sources said, the army and party militia will be smoking out all male citizens in villages and towns in a program intended to instil fear before elections. It is believed that the chiefs and village heads will be asked to submit names to militias of all male subjects in their neighbourhoods.

The Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe’s and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are leading a coalition goverment which is backed by SADC and his latest ambitious plan will certainly cause an outcry in the partnership.

Our efforts to get a comment from the Minister of Health and Child Welfare Henry Madzorera was not successful as he was said to be in a meeting.

In June 2009 the Health Minister, Dr Henry Madzorera said, “We are advocating for male circumcision as part of measures to control the spread of HIV. Studies which have been done have shown that circumcision reduces the spread of HIV by up to 60 percent and a number of countries have embraced male circumcision as a strategy to control the spread of HIV,” he said. 

Zimbabwe is still facing a Health crisis following a catalogue of disasters from cholera, swine flue to doctors going on strike.

Three studies that were done in Uganda, Kenya and South African confirmed that Medical Male Circumcision reduces the risks of a man who is circumcised to  acquire HIV virus  from a woman or partner who is HIV positive by at least 60 percent. But many of us have been wondering how this works.

The Assistant Commissioner Health Services (National Disease Control) in the Ministry of Health , Dr Alex Opio explained that the inside part of the uncircumcised  penis is rich in cells known as Langerhans cells which are normally targeted by the HIV virus.

The removal of the foreskin through medical circumcision, reduces on the number of these cells and the only place where they can be found in the meatus(opening of the penis) 
 
Dr Apio also says the removal of the foreskin exposes the tip of the penis to the underwear and fresh air. When the tip of the penis is exposed, it becomes thicker than the one which is covered by the foreskin.

When it is thicker, it becomes less susceptible to bruises that a penis may sustain during sexual intercourse and ease the transmission of the virus. In medical language, the thickening of the penis is called Keratinization.

He further explains that when a man is not circumcised, a large surface area of  the penis tends to be exposed to the vagina during sexual intercourse because the foreskin is over pulled back and incase  the woman is infected, the  chances of a man contracting HIV would be high  because during  sexual intercourse, the fiction between the vagina and the penis may create tiny tearing which can only be seen through a microscope thereby exposing the man to infection. However, the risks would be minimal if a man is circumcised since a smaller surface of the penis would be exposed to the vagina.

An uncircumcised man is also said to be more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases especially those that cause sores in the private parts (genital ulcers). Examples of such diseases include syphilis and Herpes Virus. The wounds ease the penetration of the virus into someone’s body. Dr Opio also explains that circumcision doesn’t prevent HIV transmission 100 per cent.

Other benefits of circumcision

* A circumcised penis is easier to clean and is normally free of smegma that may cause the cancer of the penis, says Dr Alex Opio. Smegma is a sticky white thick secretion that is accumulated under the foreskin of a penis of an uncircumcised man.  Many older men, who have bladder or prostate gland problems, also develop difficulties with their foreskins due to their surgeon’s handling, cleaning and using instruments. Some of these patients will need circumcising. Afterwards it is often astonishing to find some who have never ever seen their glans (knob) exposed before.

* If man continues injecting smegma in a woman, her risks of her getting cancer of the cervix are increased, Dr Opio adds. Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus. It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse. An article in the British Medical Journal in April 2002 suggested that at least 20 per cent of cancer of the cervix would be avoided if all men were circumcised.

* Lots of men, and their partners, prefer the appearance of their penis after circumcision, it is odour-free, it feels cleaner, and they enjoy better sex. Awareness of a good body image is a very important factor in building self confidence. Sexual function is not adversely affected by circumcision. On the contrary, published evidence shows that circumcised men have a wider variety of sexual activity, and women prefer circumcised men, mainly because of better genital hygiene.

*  Balanitis is an unpleasant, often recurring, inflammation of the glans. It is quite common and can be prevented by circumcision.

*  Urinary tract infections sometimes occur in babies and can be quite serious. Circumcision in infancy makes it 10 times less likely.

A 2005 study looking at attitudes towards using adult male circumcision for Sexually Transmitted Disease and HIV Prevention in Zimbabwe  found that 45% of Zimbabwean men surveyed answered ‘Yes’ in response to the question “If you are uncircumcised, would you like to be circumcised if this practice is confirmed to reduce the risk of contracting HIV or STIs and if it is performed safely and affordably?”

It’s a complicated topic, fraught with all sorts of issues; for example, where are women in all this and will this encourage risky or dangerous sexual behaviour, etc.? As complicated as it is, its bound to be more complicated when it is Mnangagwa talking about it – a man inextricably linked to the most grotesque abuses of human rights during the Gukurahundi in the 1980s, a Zanu PF hardliner, and the current Minister of Defence.  The combination of all these points provides opportunity for salacious speculations on motive and modus operandi.