nigeria, nigeria marriage, nigeria aids, nigeria hiv
Sunday Alamba/AP
Newly married couple Hauwa Idriss, right, and Umar Ahmed, both living with the AIDS virus,
smile as they pose for a photograph after their wedding in Bauchi, Nigeria, Nov. 29, 2008.

Nigerian HIV Patients Given Incentives to Marry to Prevent Spread of Virus

August 21, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
A local government program in Nigeria aims to reduce the spread of HIV by encouraging HIV-positive couples to marry; critics worry the program undermines prevention efforts and ignores childbearing risks.

“Arranged Marriages” in Nigeria

The Bauchi State Agency for the Control of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (BACATMA) in Nigeria has launched a government program to “help more than 100 HIV-positive couples marry” in hopes of preventing the spread of the HIV virus, Christian Purefoy writes for CNN.

By “pay[ing] for the dowry, provid[ing] counseling and even [offering] employment within the agency,” BACATMA hopes to encourage HIV-positive couples into wedlock, which would allegedly keep the virus within the couple and prevent its further spread. Dr. Lirwan Mohammed, executive director of the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, blames the spread of HIV on northern Nigeria’s polygamous culture. “Polygamy, as we have discovered, has become a potent source of spreading the HIV scourge in Nigeria,” he told the BBC.

As the BBC explains, marriages are arranged confidentially, and are carried out only after both parties consent. “Suitors who have tested positive and are willing to wed each other, can reduce the spread of the virus and also cushion the psychological trauma of isolation,” Dr Lirwan Mohammed told the BBC.

According to a United Nations report quoted by CNN, 3.1 percent of Nigeria’s 148 million people are said to be infected, making it the third-largest HIV positive population in the world. According to AVERT, an international AIDS charity, “some 80% of HIV infections in Nigeria are transmitted through heterosexual sex,” made dangerous due to a lack of information about sexually transmitted diseases and a low level of condom use. As the BBC explains, the Islamic laws under which the Bauchi State operates do not encourage the use of condoms.

Reactions: UN questions the method’s effectiveness

The UN, however, does not fully approve of this method of prevention, considering it ineffective and highlighting its potential dangers. “There are better methods to address the prevention of HIV and AIDS rather than encouraging that kind of union,” Warren Naamara, the UNAIDS coordinator in Nigeria, told CNN. Instead, the agency advises enlarging the general access to “prevention, treatment and care.”

UNAIDS notes, furthermore, that it is “not advisable” for HIV-positive couples to have children, since it is very likely for those children to either become themselves infected or to become orphans, losing both their parents to the disease, BBC explains. For couples who insist on bearing children, however, BACATMA has attempted to reduce the chances of infection by “ensuring that the parents have antiretroviral agents and medical advice,” CNN reports.

Even though there is no factual evidence that HIV-positive marriages stop the spread of the disease, many couples see marriage as a means of escaping the loneliness and stigmatization that comes with their HIV-positive status. “Before, I was lonely,” Umar Ahmed, married last year, told CNN. “Being with my wife, I feel great—because we stay together, we discuss different issues together.”

Background: New “Molecular Condom” Targets HIV in Africa

A unique polymer gel could help prevent the spread of HIV. The technology, still in development, was designed specifically to help women in areas where condom use is fairly low, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Research has shown that women in rural areas and less educated communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, cannot depend on their partners to wear condoms, reported the Journal of Populations Research. The resistance to condoms is part of the reason why HIV is such a tremendous problem in the region.

For the last 10 years, scientists and researchers have designed various gels to help women protect themselves from HIV. Most failed in clinical trials, however a new gel designed by scientists at the University of Utah, is showing promise. The gel functions by responding to raised pH levels, which occur in the presence of semen.

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