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The snip of the foreskin is just one small part of a much wider AIDS prevention package, which also includes testing, counseling and condom promotion. In many African countries -- including Swaziland -- less than 10 percent of men have had an AIDS test.
WHO and UNAIDS recommended last year that HIV-positive men should not be circumcised. But Kim Eva Dickson, an HIV prevention expert at WHO, says countries offering male circumcision can only encourage men to take an AIDS test first, not force them.
"What we want to avoid is that men who are circumcised think they are HIV negative," she says, adding that it's important to spread this message among women as well. She says a follow-up study of circumcised men in Kenya had no conclusive evidence of an increase in risky sexual behavior.
Only one of the men attending the Mbabane clinic the day an AP reporter visited had already had an AIDS test, although all were offered it at the clinic.
Mdlovu said he was more nervous about the test than the operation. He was also alarmed at the prospect of sleeping alongside his wife for more than a month without being able to have sexual intercourse. His concerns were shared by the other men, who repeated "six weeks, six weeks?" at regular intervals. If men have sex before the wound is healed, the risk of HIV infection increases.
Despite all the difficulties, the Family Life Association says it is pleased with progress.
"We are proud of ourselves," comments its executive director, Dudu Simelane. "It was an area where not many people were ready to tread."
Von Wissel, the head of the emergency committee, says spending on HIV/AIDS this year is $36 million -- and even that's not enough to tackle an epidemic that is destroying the fabric of Swazi society. Food production has plummeted because sick families are too poor to buy seeds and too weak to plant crops. School attendance is down. There are an estimated 130,000 orphans and vulnerable children.
"How do you socialize children with nobody hugging and kissing them?" agonizes von Wissel. "What will be the result in society in 10-15 years' time? Nobody has walked this path before."
His fears for the future are summarized by an extract pinned on his office wall from a speech given by King Mswati III at the opening of parliament in 1999.
"There is a real possibility that the Swazi nation will cease to exist unless we change our behavior and attitude."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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