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Rwanda Endorses Male Circumcision to Help Stem HIV/AIDS Infection


Rwanda's Ministry of Health has announced plans to endorse male circumcision as a measure to help stem the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, a health official said on Tuesday. Noel King has more in this report from Kigali.

Rwanda announced plans to urge male circumcision after seeing encouraging results in medical studies conducted in South Africa and Uganda. The studies suggest a direct link between circumcision and lower rates of transmission of the disease.

Some 190,000 people in Rwanda , or about 3 percent of the population, are infected with HIV/AIDS.

Fewer than twenty percent of Rwandan men are currently circumcised.

Dr. Anita Asiimwe, managing director of the Center for the Treatment and Research of AIDS at Rwanda 's Ministry of Health, tells VOA that circumcision will be promoted via a nationwide education campaign.

"We have decided to take up male circumcision as another measure to use in HIV prevention," she said. "It's not that male circumcision is going to take over. Rather it is coming in to compliment what we have been enforcing."

Asiimwe says that the push for male circumcision is intended to bolster, not replace, other measures, including campaigns aimed at urging abstinence and condom use.

The United Nations World Health Organization says studies conducted in South Africa , Uganda and Kenya indicate male circumcision can slash rates of transmission of HIV/AIDS by up to 60 percent.

Rwanda is known for its aggressive approach to combating the disease.

In July, Rwanda became the first country in the world to take advantage of a World Health Organization waiver, which allows poor nations to bypass patent laws and import generic HIV/AIDS medications or manufacture the medicines domestically.

Officials in Rwanda say they intend to import generic anti-retroviral drugs made by Toronto-based drug-maker Atopex Inc. Health officials are currently conducting studies on the suitability of the drugs for public use.

Rwanda's three percent infection rate is relatively low when compared to neighboring nations. But health officials say more challenges lie ahead.

Formerly displaced Rwandans who have recently returned from neighboring Tanzania have brought high rates of the disease.

The impact on Rwanda of refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo is still unclear.

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