Resuming VMMC Services in South Africa

September 10th, 2020 | Viewpoint

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After months of COVID-19 movement restrictions, our staff are eager to get back into clinics to offer voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) services to South African men. VMMC has been proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection by 60% and is a key part of South Africa’s epidemic control strategy. With support from the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) Project funded by PEPFAR and USAID, we are working with South Africa’s National Department of Health to reopen VMMC services with extra precautions to keep clients safe. All staff participated in COVID-19 infection prevention and control training. Our team conducted COVID-19 risk assessments at every service delivery site to ensure compliance with safety protocols. Services will be resumed in a phased approach at a limited number of sites per district and only a limited number of booked clients accommodated each day.

Social media has served as a lifeline during this time, allowing our social mobilization team to reach potential clients and stay in contact as services come back online. During the month of August alone, we have reached more than 755,000 people, with nearly 59,000 post engagements and more than 3,000 likes. Both men and women have used social media to request referrals for VMMC and HIV testing, care, and treatment services. Men interested in VMMC can provide their contact information and one of our trained social mobilizers will follow up for further discussion and potentially a booking confirmation for VMMC services if the client wants.

We are using Facebook to provide information about where and how to access VMMC services.

We are using Facebook to provide information about where and how to access VMMC services.

Continued engagement with traditional leaders has also helped to keep program interest up during these months. EpiC VMMC Ambassador Prince Nhalanganiso Zulu embarked on a community initiative to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on households in Kwa-Zulu-Natal province. The objective was to advocate for VMMC services as a gateway for men’s health, where men can be referred for services like sexually transmitted infection treatment, TB screening, COVID-19 screening, and prevention of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. The Prince has been a passionate advocate for VMMC services, addressing cultural taboos and promoting VMMC to help curb HIV transmission in the Zulu kingdom.

Epic VMMC Ambassador Prince Nhalanganiso Zulu (left) addresses the head of the "Induna" of the Mthethwa tribal court in Egodeni, Zululand district at a men's outreach session.

Epic VMMC Ambassador Prince Nhalanganiso Zulu (left) addresses the head of the “Induna” of the Mthethwa tribal court in Egodeni, Zululand district at a men’s outreach session.

Safety protocols allow us to keep vital HIV prevention services going while also minimizing client COVID-19 risk. Before boarding a project vehicle or entering a health center, one of our staff members conducts no-touch screening to identify any client with fever or other COVID-19 symptoms. If a client needs a mask, he will receive one and must keep it on for the duration of both his clinic visit and being on any transport. Drivers ask clients to sanitize hands before boarding project vehicles and vehicle windows are kept open for proper ventilation. With all of these precautions in place, we look forward to safely welcoming clients back to vital VMMC services.

A JSI social mobilizer performs a temperature screening for a participant in a men's outreach session, per the COVID-19 requirements of the National Department of Health.

One of our social mobilizers performs a temperature screening for a participant in a men’s outreach session, per the COVID-19 requirements of the National Department of Health.

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