The Tanzanian government has embarked on a large-scale voluntary male circumcision programme aimed at reducing the HIV risk of men and boys in areas of the country with low levels of male circumcision.
"We have already completed a pilot project and we are now scaling up male circumcision," said Bennet Fimbo, HIV/AIDS adviser to the Tanzania Ministry of Health. "The target group in the campaign will be men and boys aged 10-34."
The programme aims to reach 2.8 million men and boys within the next five years.
Three randomized controlled trials in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda provided evidence that male circumcision can reduce a man's risk of becoming infected with HIV through heterosexual intercourse by as much as 60 percent. The UN World Health Organization recommends male circumcision as one of the tools for HIV prevention, alongside counselling and testing, promotion of safer sex, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and condom use.
An estimated 70 percent of Tanzanian men are circumcised, according to government surveys, but prevalence varies from region to region.
"In some districts up to 80 percent of men, especially in the western parts of the country, are not circumcised," Fimbo said. "In places like Zanzibar, Pemba and coastal areas, where the population is predominantly Muslim, the circumcision rate is almost 99 percent."
He noted that HIV prevalence tended to be lower in areas of the country where male circumcision was common. "In Zanzibar and Pemba, the prevalence is less than 1 percent, while around Lake Victoria, Mbeya and Iringa regions, circumcision is low and HIV prevalence is 14-20 percent."
The programme will focus on seven regions in western Tanzania where levels of male circumcision are particularly low: Iringa, Kagera, Mar, Mwanza, Rukwa, Shinyanga, Tabora, Rukwa.
The programme - supported by the USA - will provide the service free of charge; male circumcision usually costs US$10-17.