Under the Knife in Tanzania
By: Josh Estey
When an email lands in your inbox asking you to shoot a story on mass male circumcision, you don’t say no. Okay, at least I don’t say no.
Being a man, it’s a story that is obviously close to my gender. But it’s also slightly taboo and even a little shocking for us in western countries to casually discuss. And oddly, I have been covering this story for many years, from Asia to Africa, so I wasn’t going to let this chance slide.
Where female genital mutilation is shocking and horrific, the tradition of male circumcision across the globe is extremely common. As we understand medicine today, it’s also a healthy body modification that reduces the spread of HIV and STDs.
For many men in Africa, circumcision is not at all a common practice. And that’s why Namuh and a team from IntraHealth were contacted.
IntraHealth, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is working across Tanzania to bring boys and men of all ages the free surgical procedure, in an attempt to slow the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Targeting men between 20-29 years, the program is aimed at changing the lives of those most sexually at risk.
Our team traveled across the Lake Region meeting health workers in remote villages and talking with the men and their significant others about their sexual habits and undergoing a surgical procedure.
Imagine meeting a stranger in a rural town in Oklahoma and asking him how many sexual partners he has besides his girlfriend, and why he is thinking of going under the knife. Now ask his girlfriend this question five-minutes later and learn how the surgery has affected their sex life. The candor and honesty were astounding and the stories telling, helping clarify the importance of this program in slowing the spread of disease and ensuring the health of men.
Gaining subjects acceptance, tastefully photographing surgeries, and creating empowering portraits were all part of the project, which was both fascinating and, as a male, always a little cringe worthy.
But it was great to see the health teams hard at work helping to change the lives of men who otherwise wouldn’t have this opportunity to improve their health and the health of their families.