Pokot pastoralists in Kenya's northwest region have resumed male circumcision to tackle HIV/AIDS, after abandoning the tradition five decades ago due to attacks on initiates by rival communities.
About 65,000 herders have been lined up for voluntary male circumcision, local health authorities and an NGO said late Sunday.
The herders in Pokot North District abandoned the rite in 1950 after two deadly cross border attacks that left over 2,000 initiates dead in the Alale and Orwolo areas.
Kenya's Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio, who hails from the Pokot community, said the attacks executed by Turkana and Karamojong tribesmen forced local elders to order circumcision stopped.
“The elders were angered by attacks by the Karamojong at manyattas where circumcision rites had been conducted and without any provocation shot dead hundreds initiates,” said Poghisio.
“Again, a year later, armed Turkana raiders made a similar attack on Pokot homesteads, killing several warriors. This prompted the elders to abandon the rite,” the minister said.
Speaking during the launch of voluntary male circumcision organized by Impact Research and Development Organization (IRDO), Poghisio said the resumption of the rite would help address the spread of HIV/AIDS in the area.
“I flew in from London to support this incentive. We are encouraged by NGO's action to extend their circumcision services to the district and it will help our people tackle HIV/Aids infections,” the minister said.
He said Karamojong from Uganda and Turkana from Kenya took advantage of the circumcision ceremonies to attack and kill initiates and steal cattle.
“It had become an ability of the two communities to sneak into Pokot manyattas to kill in order to prove their warriorism,” said the lawmaker.
IRDO CEO Dr Kawango Agot said her organization had been picked and funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to roll out the circumcision in the district.
Agot said sensitization campaigns had been conducted in the district to create awareness and lauded the residents for positive response.
“Our services were concentrated in Nyanza province and we moved to Turkana and Pokot North after CDC engaged us to implement circumcision in the district to minimize the spread of HIV and Aids cases in the regions,” said the CEO.
Agot said due to high mobility of the pastoralists, it was important to get circumcised in order to check the scourge.
Her organization, she said, had covered 14 districts in Nyanza and working with other partners extended the service to Teso in Busia county.
The District Aids Control Coordinator Leonard Apa Tolel said the HIV/Aids prevalence in the area stood at 3 percent and 1,500 people infected with the scourge were currently on anti retroviral drugs (ARVs).
“In the past, there has been a belief that it is unlikely for pastoralists to be infected with HIV/Aids but the fact is that the disease has hit the area and measures are required to curb the problem,” he said.