The increase in HIV infections has forced some Bagisu to abandon the cultural circumcision rituals they have treasured for centuries.
Traditionally, the local surgeons (Bakhebi) would use one knife (Inyembe) on several candidates (Basinde). But following various sensitisation programmes by the health officials in Bugisu region, the policy is now “one knife, one candidate”.
Yusuf Wamboga, who has been a local circumcision surgeon since 1988, says while in the past local surgeons would operate as individuals, today, their operations are carried out under the umbrella organisation, Bamasaaba Local Surgeons Association.
“Every circumcision season, the surgeons undergo a re-orientation training on safe male circumcision. The aim is to make circumcision safer for the candidates and the local surgeons,” Wamboga says.
“In the association, the “one knife, one candidate” policy is emphasised and each surgeon is expected to carry at least 10 knives. In addition, he is required to wash his hands with clean water and soap after circumcising. This has, however, pushed up the price of the knives from sh2,000 [US$0.75] to sh10,000 [US$3.75] per knife,” Wamboga explains.
In the past, when a surgeon accidentally cut himself, he would let the blood from the circumcision candidate’s wound drop into his, but this has since stopped because of the risk of contracting HIV, Wamboga adds.
He says currently, no surgeon is allowed to circumcise if he has a wound.
However, Wamboga appeals to the Government to educate parents, whose sons are due for the ritual, on the risks of contracting infections. He also urges the Government to facilitate the local surgeons in Bugisu.
“Some parents still believe in cultural practices, such as smearing one with cow dung, clay and yeast, yet they can expose one to infections,” Wamboga says.
Sironko district health officer Dr. Rogers Nabende, says the district health department has trained and deployed three clinical officers at Budadiri Health Centre IV to carry out safe male circumcision.
“Since the beginning of the year, over 250 boys have been circumcised at the health centre. This has encouraged many young boys to opt for safe male circumcision at the facility,” Nabende says.
Meanwhile, the AIDS Information Centre in Mbale circumcised over 650 males, not so much as a ritual of the Bagisu, but because it helps reduce the risks of contracting HIV.
However, most circumcision candidates, according to James Khulosya, a minister in the Inzu Ya Masaaba cultural institution, prefer to undergo the cultural ritual. He attributes this to their cultural attachment.