HIV Test Before Nigerian Marriage

The increasing cases of HIV infection in Africa has prompted some Christians in Nigeria to require HIV test results before getting married.  The practice aims to prevent the spread of HIV, rather than punish those living with the virus.  This rule is being spearheaded by the country’s Baptist church, with Daniel Gbadero of the Baptist Awareness against AID Programmed as its chief proponent.

Couples wanting to get married would take an HIV test about nine months to a year before their wedding.  If one of them is positive, the couple is asked if they still want to go ahead.  Most of the time, the couples would break up in case one of them turns out to be HIV-positive.  Gbadero said in an interview that such breakups help prevent the spread of the virus, whichever way you look at it.  However, if both partners turn out to be positive, the church would not hesitate into marrying them.

Meanwhile, Muslims in the country’s oil-rich southern states have been practicing HIV testing before marriage for some time.  Zubairu Gambo of the Alese Society against HIV/ AIDS stated that he would like the Muslim religious leaders in the predominantly-Muslim northern states to embrace the idea of HIV testing before marriage.

"You don’t discuss sex before marriage in the north-or even when you are married-while in the south you do," Gambo said in an interview.  He believes that compulsory pre-marital testing would help tackle the low levels of AIDS awareness in the northern states, which he believes contributes to the relatively high HIV prevalence there.

However, not everyone agrees with the idea.  Grace Anya of Fortress 4 Women, a women’s rights NGO in the northern city of Kano, condemns the compulsory testing, fearing that churches may misuse them.  "They can force you to go for an HIV test, even against your wishes, and there is no guarantee those results will stay confidential," she said.

Anya also argues that HIV is being singled out before marriage while there are other terminal diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis; mainly because of the perceived stigma that having HIV meant that the person is promiscuous.  She, however, encourages people to know their status as well as take advantage of the rollout of antiretroviral drugs.  The Nigerian authorities are publicly opposed to compulsory testing, with a new anti-stigma bill being drafted in the national assembly aims to make the practice illegal.

Nigeria has an overall HIV prevalence rate of 4.4 percent, with its 140 million people evenly split between Muslims and Christians.

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