A study conducted at WhizzKids United Health Academy could be a breakthrough in the continuous fight in the reduction of HIV&AIDS.
An investigative pilot study on HIV behavioural risk amongst circumcised male adolescents conducted at the premises of WKU, Pietermaritzburg, is underway, paving a way for further developments in the study of the virus.
The programme is spearheaded by the Health Academy’s research psychologist, Rusha Govender, whose primary goal and objective is set in the examination of “cognitive behavioural changes” on circumcised males. Her study has received full ethical approval from the Department of Health of KwaZulu Natal, Wits University and the University of Cape Town.
Whilst circumcision plays a pivotal role in the study, Rusha is adamant that circumcision alone is not objectively the prime aim of the study neither is the equipment used, but the focus is on the risk assessment after the circumcision procedure. The follow-ups and risk reduction counselling are an important component of her study.
“Yes circumcision is important from a medical perspective. The focus of study is also cognitive behavioural changes. We determine if young males continue to use condoms, or do they feel less inhibited and engage in risk-taking behaviour such as increasing the number of sexual partners and substance abuse.”
The study has taken inimitable strides in terms of its wide range of collection of data, the analyses variability is not only inconclusive from a medical perspective, but also seeks to find solutions from psychological findings. Primarily, a typical enquiry seeks to establish risk-taking-behaviours considered exceedingly susceptible, such as the lack of condom usage and high sexual activities after circumcision.
“This is a multi-site study. We are collecting data from young males in KZN Edendale and Soweto. It is multidisciplinary because we are looking at the problem from a psychological, immunological and public healthcare level,” said Rusha. “The WKU Health Academy also regularly receives site visits from the other centres and we visit their centres.”
The study has been going for six months, subsequently all data will be analytically cross examined between Soweto and Pietermaritzburg before a formal presentation.
The project is funded by the Canadian Prevention Trials Network, which Rusha regards as a close working environment with medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, immunologists; a constant collaboration that seeks to reduce the spread of HIV and other infections such as TB.
Other institutions working to reduce the spread of HIV&AIDS have confirmed that medical circumcision effectively reduces men’s risk of contracting HIV through vaginal intercourse by 60%. The drop in prevalence is significantly attributed by the male circumcision practice, the study could also contribute to a further drop should the findings indicate a decline in behavioural changes for circumcised males.
Since 2010, Whizzkids United has been highly successful in using football training as a metaphor for educating South African teenagers about the risks of HIV/AIDS (35,000 graduates of the programme so far). The targeted young people live in areas where up to 60% of adults are infected. But WKU was keen to find other ways of reaching teenagers, and of ensuring that those taking part in their football programmes found their way to the WKU Health Academy where they can be tested for HIV and receive counselling and information.
During the study, the team at the WhizzKids United Health Academy expect to conduct more voluntary male circumcision by the end of June. In the past WhizzKids United Health Academy has held successful trauma counselling workshops and good clinical practice training with male interviewers which ensure the smooth running of the circumcision process.