A group of Zimbabwe politicians underwent circumcision procedures in the capital city of Harare on Friday as part of a public campaign to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country.
Not all MPs support the practice, but at least four had gone under the knife by noon local time, according to the BBC; more were expected to follow.
A temporary clinic was installed right there in the Parliament House, where MPs dropped in for the 10-minute procedure and then went on their way with a little less skin. The procedure also included an HIV test.
In Zimbabwe, efforts to combat the virus have been underway for years. Circumcision is important, because it can reduce the risk of infection for males by up to 60 percent, according to a 2007 study conducted by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.
Blessing Chebundo is the chairperson of a group called Zimbabwe Parliamentarians against HIV and Aids, or ZIPAH. He was the first MP to undergo the operation on Friday. In March, he spearheaded the plan to get politicians circumcised, explaining that it was important to set a precedent.
The nation demands and expects you to play a strong leadership role in supporting and strengthening the civic society structures and operations that give greater meaning to our multisectoral principle, he said to a Harare newspaper.
Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe is also leading the charge, suggesting that all male MPs participate.
All the ministers should go for the exercise if our aims of reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS are to be translated into reality. As leaders in government, we should lead by example, she said.
But controversy surrounded the efforts, with many MPs criticizing the campaign. They argue that it would be more effective to promote condom use, which is far more effective than circumcision when it comes to preventing the spread of HIV.
There are a few ethnic groups in Zimbabwe that practice circumcision as a matter of tradition, but for most residents, it's a new idea. Thanks to public awareness campaigns launched in 2009, over 3,000 men have so far elected to go under the knife. This, combined with higher condom use and a push for abstinence and monogamy, has had measurable results. In 2007, about 18 percent of adults were HIV-positive. Now, that number is down to about 14 percent.
Zimbabwe is still one of the most HIV-positive countries on Earth, but the success of this health campaign is a spot of good news for a government that is plagued by corruption and mismanagement. The country is led by Robert Mugabe, a dictatorial strongman who has presided over the nation for more than 30 years. He has failed to translate Zimbabwe's mineral wealth into developmental improvements, and the country suffers high levels of poverty and hunger.
Still, anti-HIV efforts, which are headed up mostly by members of the opposition party, show that progress is far from impossible.
For the men of Zimbabwe, seeing high-level politicians submit to the snip may help them overcome their own fears about the operation.
Godfrey Semu, a young man interviewed by Agence France-Presse last month, explained that many of his friends were hesitant for understandable reasons.
They don't want to be circumcised, because they believe it doesn't reduce any HIV infection ... and they are afraid it's painful, he said, adding that it can be nerve-wracking to get tested for the virus, as well. But he decided to get tested and circumcised last year and hopes to encourage his friends to do the same.
You'll be a little bit afraid, but when you get to the operation, the operation isn't hard, he said.