Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rwanda: Nothing Can Fight HIV/Aids Better Than Discipline


12 February 2008

David Gusongoirye

Following government advice that circumcision lessened chances of contracting HIV/Aids, many young men formed very long lines outside health centres to have their foreskins chopped off.

State minister in charge of HIV/Aids and other Infectious Diseases Innocent Nyaruhirira had just given the nod to circumcision when he acknowledged that men who are circumcised are 60% more likely to be protected against HIV during sexual intercourse.

The response to the circumcision programme was so vigorous, so spontaneous, that it got me worried, instead of exciting me. It gnawed at my heart, not quite knowing how to express what it was that worried me specifically, until I happened upon a freshly circumcised fellow. I found him lolling upon a mat, dressed in a loose garment tied toga-style - regular clothing was out of the question at this time of healing - and we fell to conversing about his new condition.

"Mister, these Aids people have spoken for long about fighting the disease, but they had never come up with a practical solution as good as this one. Don't have sex, don't do this, don't do that. Eh, man, how can a young man such as I forfeit sex, eh? And the condoms - where is the sense in putting on a condom when you are having sex? Sex is about feeling, and so no young person likes them!"

I came from that young man's side a very humbled person, and doubly afraid for the future as far as the hydra known as HIV is concerned, and its potential to wreak more havoc against a young population that loves and values fun more than security of life.

I should also state that this assertive young man had got the benefit of a good education and therefore far above being called an ignoramus. There it was in black and white: whatever sensitisation that had been done about ways of protecting oneself against HIV infection were going to be thrown to the wind, because circumcision would now provide full coverage!

It is appalling, to say the least. That explained the long circumcision lines in front of the health centres - young men and women were now going to indulge in all the sex they wanted without any inhibitions, any fears about HIV infection.

Anything that will give a person a chance to escape HIV infection is gladly welcome. This fight is not any different from any other physical conventional wars - you don't win any by using only direct frontal attack; you have to employ various stratagems in order to make headway.

I strongly urge the government, the entire public and in our own homes to step up the campaign against HIV/Aids, but by taking counselling to another level. Who knows that the World Health Organisation and UNAids' statistics might not have taken every single factor into consideration?

It is counselling that will help those young men who are rushing to get circumcised in order to 'enjoy' their sex unhindered, to get informed that there are many things to consider before they place their unprotected peckers in the mouth of infected vessels, placing all their faith in their circumcision armour.

It is not the place of this column to criticize circumcision, lest I am read wrongly. The column is actually endorsing it, and advising that as in previous campaigns, it is also not infection-proof. Therefore, it should be used as a mere fall-back position, not as the entire and only shield.

As in tectonic forces, HIV also follows the line of least resistance. Fighting HIV needs discipline, and so an undisciplined person will not manage to walk within the strictures of Abstinence, Faithfulness, Condoms, and Circumcision - all of which give high chances, but only when one sticks to them religiously.

And look now; there is another group that has grown into maturity and is infected, but without ever having had sexual contact with any member of the opposite sex - or of the same sex. There are many unfortunate children who were just born with the HIV virus. The level of resistance of these people and many others is quite different from yours and mine, just as it is different in a general sense. So, it is always a danger to indulge in the kind of sex that the young men want - wild and unprotected - when it is your resistance that is weak and therefore your life is put in uncalled for danger.

Let us all campaign for a high sense of discipline in our daily undertakings, be it in our health, financial, or political affairs.