Botched ‘cut’ call for scrutiny of cultural rituals

Mr Gilbert Kirwa Maina with a photo of his son,

Mr Gilbert Kirwa Maina with a photo of his son, who died of septic shock following an infection obtained from a botched circumcision, during an interview at his home in Tarakwa, Uasin Gishu County on December 29, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Every year in Kenya, as has been the case for centuries, young men undergo circumcision as part of traditional rites of passage to adulthood.

For instance, among the Kikuyu, male circumcision is a cultural ritual and rite of passage. Many families don’t have an issue with their sons getting the ‘cut’.

There has been an increase in reported cases of botched circumcision, leading to ruinous complications, such as death and penile amputation. Such cases have been witnessed in counties like Nakuru, Murang’a, Baringo and Vihiga.

The Ministry of Health and other stakeholders have repeatedly advised traditional circumcisers to undergo training on safely while performing the rite. Notably, they are trained to practise hygienically and to sterilise the equipment they use. Bungoma, for instance, conducts two yearly.

However, traditional circumcisions by unqualified or unskilled practitioners continue unabated. Circumcision in unsterile conditions is risky. It can lead to infection, bleeding and permanent injury or even HIV infection from unsterilised “instruments”, and possible death if appropriate treatment is not provided. In Nandi, a 14-year-old boy died from his wound last month.

Technical procedures

In 2018, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Kenya reported 25 serious genital injuries in 2014-2017, a quarter of them caused by health providers who did not comply with technical procedures with five boys suffering permanent penile deformities. In 2014, WHO warned against the forceps-guided (FG) method.

Media reports say 11 boys and young men died from circumcision complications and 25 were injured in 2016 to August 2020. Tens of others were injured in brawls during the rituals.

One side-effect is that unhygienic circumcision spreads HIV/Aids. That is ironic as several studies show circumcised men are less likely to contract the virus. Parents and guardians should be extra vigilant during such initiation ceremonies.

Mr Ngari is a communication and journalism student at Rongo University. [email protected].