Vincent Okello, 27, was one of the many men who turned up for circumcision in northern Uganda in recent months.
Yet despite his interest in the exercise, Okello is concerned about the reaction of his wife once he returns home.
This is because of reports that some women in the north have rejected their circumcised men, accusing them of having become sexually weaker after undergoing the operation that experts say helps reduce the chances of contracting the deadly HIV/Aids virus.
“I came here for circumcision after hearing messages from the media about the benefits of circumcision; that it protects us from acquiring HIV/Aids and other infections like Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs,” Okello said. “However, my concern is about my wife who is likely to abandon me after circumcision following misconceptions from the public that I will become sexually less powerful.”
Okello told The Observer at Gulu hospital, that some of his colleagues who were circumcised before had already been abandoned by their wives. However, according to Roselyn Oyella, the safe male circumcision counsellor at Gulu hospital, such perceptions are false.
“If you have been impotent you remain impotent. If you have been sexually active, there won’t be any change after circumcision,” Oyella said.
Virility is not the only reason why circumcision is causing conflict in families, according to Stuart Ochora, 25, a resident of Layibi village in Gulu Municipality. It is said that the practice contradicts local cultural norms and many locals think it is meant to convert people to Islam.
Medical personnel such as Dr Leonard Were, the voluntarily medical male circumcision (VMMC) officer, attribute the lopsided perceptions to lack of or limited sensitisation of people, especially women, about the importance of circumcision in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“Because of removing the foreskin of the penis, the virus has lesser area [through which] to enter the man during sexual intercourse,” Dr Were said.
Dr Were, who is also the programme officer of the Northern Uganda Health Integration to Enhance Services (NU-HITES) project, says for the last one-and-a-half years, 74,000 men have been circumcised in northern Uganda by NU-HITES project alone. However, he fears that due to cultural beliefs and lack of sensitisation about its importance, they might fail to meet their target of circumcising 100,000 males every year.
The RDC of Gulu, Catherine Lamwaka, said the low number of males circumcised would eventually become a social and economic burden to government.
“We are fighting hard to sensitise people in the region about the importance of circumcision,” Lamwaka said.
At 8.3 per cent, northern Uganda has the second highest HIV/Aids prevalence rate, after the central region.