VMMC at IAS 2015: Cause for celebration and concern

July 20, 2015

Advocates tracking the pace and coverage of voluntary medical male circumcision have a new, concise resource in the form of a two-page “progress brief” from the World Health Organization. The document was launched in time for the International AIDS Society’s meeting in Vancouver and reports a “remarkable expansion to nearly 9.1 million voluntary medical male circumcisions (VMMC) performed for HIV prevention through 2014 in priority countries of East and Southern Africa.” Even more remarkable: among the 9.1 million, more than 3 million were performed in 2014 alone.

The report also states that, “Sufficient resources to reach at least 80% VMMC coverage must be available for this one-time, long-term efficacious intervention for both individual and public health HIV prevention, while preparing for VMMC sustainability within broader prevention programming.” As AVAC has covered in recent months, funding for VMMC has dropped at the precise moment that these gains in numbers and coverage are being made (for background, see our VMMC section in AVAC Report 2014/15: Prevention on the Line and this year’s Resource Tracking Report, HIV Prevention Research & Development Funding Trends, 2000–2014).

The bold consensus statement released at the Vancouver meeting by the International AIDS Society and signed by many leaders in the field calls for expanded access to ART for treatment and prevention. Unfortunately, the statement does not mention VMMC as a critical strategy for sustained funding and ambitious targets–an omission also found in the Declaration from the 2012 World AIDS Conference.

In the three years between these meetings, tremendous progress—captured in the new brief—has been made. But to sustain this momentum, VMMC needs to be specifically identified as central to bringing epidemic levels of new infections to an end. Rhetoric, funding and programming all need to follow, or else the progress brief in one or two year’s time may be far less encouraging than it is today.