The Rwandan culture does not favour the ongoing campaign to have all males circumcised. After scientific research revealed that the infection and spread of HIV can be reduced by circumcision, the Government of Rwanda started sensitizing males to go for it.
However, in the typical Rwanda culture, male circumcision is exclusively meant for Muslims.
“I only circumcised because I was staying with Muslim friends. I had never heard of it where I was born,” said Claude Niyibizi, a resident in Ruhuha- Bugesera district.
On the other hand, older males in the districts of Eastern Province showed no cooperation towards the efforts of reducing HIV prevalence among males. The solemn truth remains that very few men have circumcised.
“This becomes a concern because there is now compelling epidemiological evidence from over 40 studies which show that male circumcision provides significant protection against HIV infection; circumcised males at a ratio of 2:8 are less likely to become infected with HIV,” said Dr. Claude Ndagijimana, the Director of Rwamagana District Hospital.
“Circumcision also protects against other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, and since people who have STI’s are 2:5 times more likely to become infected with HIV, circumcision may be even more protective.”
There is overwhelming evidence that more youth are giving up their foreskin. Many queue for long hours at hospital.
“It is a fact that most aged Rwandans are shying away from circumcision. Our hospital statistics show the youth dominating the majority of those who go for circumcision.
The number is increasing and we expect to train more personnel to handle the big numbers,” said Ndagijimana.
“These are young men lining to be circumcised and others have come for routine check-ups after the operation. It is noticeable that more youth than adults are getting circumcised. The average number of youth we circumcise per day is 78,” a nurse on duty said.
The adults have their own excuses for not going for the exercise. They claim they cannot change their culture all of a sudden due to unproved scientific utterances.
“I am now 50 years and have not circumcised, so it beats my logic when one tries to convince me that I should go for it. Besides there is no real proof that circumcision prevents the spread of HIV,” said Valens Kayigana, a resident of Mutenderi - Ngoma district.
Many Rwandans today, are still reluctant and view circumcision as an unnecessary and painful mutilation. However, others blame it on religion. Staunch Christians associate it with Muslims beliefs and some say it is disrespecting God.
“Circumcision is interrupting with God’s creation activity. If God wanted He would have created us circumcised, so why should I attempt to change what God created; I cannot circumcise,” said Samuel Maniraguha, 56, in Kabarondo.
This resistance comes amidst international policies to have all males circumcised in countries whose populations are infected and affected with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“Based on the existing body of evidence, and our experience implementing male circumcision to strengthen our prevention efforts, we are asking the international community to help national governments and their partners to introduce male circumcision wherever HIV prevalence is greatest and circumcision rates are lowest—in the nations of Eastern and Southern Africa,” said Dvora Joseph, Acting Director of the HIV Department at PSI, in Washington.
Nevertheless, reasons for circumcision vary according to culture and religion. For some, circumcision is done for hygiene and health reasons while for policy makers, it might be the next great step towards curbing HIV/AIDS in the Sub-Saharan region.