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How foregoing foreskin saves lives in Zimbabwe

In the outer suburbs of Harare, I stand inside the Population Services International (PSI) male circumcision information booth. I talk with David, an advocate, about the benefits of male circumcision and his own personal journey. I was surprised to find out that he wasn’t circumcised.“I am HIV positive”, he tells me with confidence, “So I can’t get circumcised. That is why this means a lot to me…..I know I can help.”

Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 15% and 1.4 million people living with HIV. In countries with limited resources, there is an effective way of combatting the spread of HIV, especially in the most at risk group: males between the ages of 15-24. Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) is shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 60%. A one-time intervention, medical male circumcision provides men life-long partial protection against HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

ThinkPlace Kenya was in Zimbabwe to co-facilitate a 4 day workshop with PSI, to incorporate human-centred principles in designing solutions that would encourage men to make the decision to get VMMC. Using existing research and segmentation, participants were led through a client archetype creation exercise which allowed them to understand their key target segments, in a more human way. By understanding each segment’s barriers to VMMC and by leveraging their intrinsic motivators, participants created three main client archetypes. The archetypes, Zivia: The Enthusiast, Bongani: The Follower and Tinashe: The Independent allowed participants to connect with their targets in an inspiring and real way. 

With a better understanding of their clients, participants went through an extensive ideation and concept development process to address their client’s needs and barriers including: the need for support during the entire VMMC process, more information regarding the procedure throughout their journey, better explanation of both functional and emotional benefits, more honest communication regarding the pain that would be experienced and the need to address their personal motivators (such as sex appeal) to encourage more men to take up VMMC. One such solution, was a Pain-o-Meter that allowed men to understand the pain that they would experience during circumcision in relation, to pain that they already may have experienced in their life eg being pricked by a thorn.

Hopefully, by using this human-centred approach, more men are convinced to take up circumcision- stemming the epidemic that is gripping 14 countries in the region. As David finishes telling me his story, a young teenage boy and his friend shyly walk up to the booth. “Excuse me,” he says as he turns to them, shakes their hand warmly, smiles and begins his speech.

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