of Infested Population, What is this?
Nigerian HIV/AIDS Patients Marry Each Other, Encouraged by
Of The Associated Press; Yahoo-News, Canada, Sunday, March 8,
Dr. Patrick Iroegbu
Reading this article, it will sound as a dark dream in the western
world. But it is already taking part in Africas Nigeria
where HIV/AIDS ravages the life of the youth. What are the ethical
and social issues associated with the belief, practice and support
of a program by a government to wed infested population of HIV/AIDS
carriers? Would the desire to have partners and families of
infested people help in solving the dilemma of unprotected sex
and therefore babies that will be faced with the traumatic backgrounds
of having descended from HIV/AIDS parentage? Why is Nigeria
taking the lead to marry infested population of deadly HIV/AIDS
episodes? What is out there to be learned and promoted in response
to the challenges of illness and social medicine in a challenged
world of HIV/AIDS? Join me in reading a news report from Nigeria
by the Associated Press on this enigmatic issue of understanding
and combating HIV/AIDS in African Societies and elsewhere (Patrick
Iroegbu, March 8, 2009).
According to the reporter from BAUCHI of Nigeria there
is a lady with her golden dress shimmering in the sun and ornate
henna tattoos covering her hands. It is Hauwa Idris. She is
the picture of a radiant Nigerian bride. But her betrothal has
hardly been typical: Both bride and groom are infected with
the deadly AIDS virus and have been encouraged to wed by an
unusual government program. Bauchi State, in Nigeria's heavily
Muslim north, has recently begun playing Cupid with its HIV
sufferers, encouraging them to marry by offering counselling
and cash toward their big day. The goal: to halt the spread
of HIV in the non-infected population. "We live in a polygamous
society where divorce is common and condom use is low,"
says Yakubu Usman Abubakar, an official working with the Bauchi
Action Committee on AIDS, which runs the program. "If we
can stop those who have the disease spreading it to those who
don't have the disease, then obviously it will come under control."
The plan had seen 93 "positive" couples married since
its inception about two years ago. Idris, aged 32, and her beaming
husband, 39-year-old Umar Ahmed, are couple No. 94. "I'm
very happy to see my wedding day," Idris says, laughing
shyly. "I never expected I was going to marry because of
my (HIV) status. But now I am happy and thank God that now we
have a solution ... we can marry within ourselves." Idris
and Ahmed's eyes met across a crowded clinic waiting room as
they queued to collect their anti-retroviral HIV therapy pills.
They exchanged phone numbers and the courtship began.
Two months later, Ahmed asked Idris' parents for her hand in
marriage. It was granted and a dowry of the equivalent of C$87
agreed upon. As an incentive to carry it off, the Bauchi group
contributed $287 toward the cost of the couple setting up home
together, no small amount in a country where over half the population
live on about $1.25 a day. The outreach program won't be formalized
until 2009, and no budget figures exist yet. The state doesn't
seek to introduce HIV-infected people, since that would entail
revealing private medical data, but when officials hear of HIV
lovers, they step in quickly to encourage a legal union.
Around four million of Nigeria's 140 million people are living
with HIV - the second-largest HIV population in the world, according
to Britain's foreign development agency. And although prevalence
rates have dropped slightly in the past three years to around
four per cent, health experts warn the country still has a lot
of work to do to bring the epidemic under control. Bauchi is
the only one of Nigeria's 36 states known to have such a program.
In a society where HIV sufferers are stigmatized, these "positive
marriages" provide more than just companionship. "We
have such a close bond," says Usman Ziko, 42, of his relationship
with wife Hannah, 32. Money from the Bauchi plan allowed them
to marry in October, after an 18-month courtship that began
in the corridors of the clinic. "It was a flamboyant affair,"
Hannah recalls of the wedding with a smile. "Lots of people
and dancing and we snapped pictures to remember the day."
"When I first found out I was positive I thought it was
the end of the world," explains Ziko. "I was depressed
and became isolated from my friends. Now I have a partner who
understands everything. We share our problems, remind each other
to take medicine and are free with each other." Bala Garba,
a 40-year-old soldier, married Rabi Ibrahim, a 24-year-old teacher,
with assistance from the plan after they met at their clinic.
"Making this marriage will make our lives easier and help
us to keep the secret (of our HIV positive status)," Garba
explains. "It is normal to be married in our society. This
keeps people from thinking there is anything abnormal about
us." The pair has just had their first baby - a little
boy named Musa.
With assistance from the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, the
couple received treatment and advice to help prevent Rabi from
passing the virus to her baby, although the child is still too
young to be tested. According to health workers, they have every
chance of having a healthy child. "He is a strong boy and
he's growing fast," says a visibly delighted Garba, laughing.
Ziko and Hannah, following strict advice and recommendations
from the organization, have also conceived. "I'm so excited
to be a mother," says Hannah, now three months pregnant.
"I have been eating a special diet and having medical checkups.
I never imagined I could live such a normal life."
Not everyone is so encouraged, however. Some health experts
have criticized the plan, saying that if HIV-positive couples
are encouraged to have babies, more children will end up orphaned.
According to the United Nations, Nigeria had 1.2 million AIDS
orphans in 2007. While some may be adopted by relatives or find
care with charitable or church organizations, many will end
up on the streets begging and taking care of their siblings.
Bauchi's health officials remain convinced of the plan's benefits,
however. They point out that in Nigeria; life expectancy is
just 48 years in any case.
"Here you can't assume that someone with HIV will die sooner
than someone else," says Abubakar, of the Bauchi program.
This is "Especially if they are taking care of themselves,
receiving good advice and proper medication." Ziko certainly
has no intention of leaving his unborn child to fend for itself.
"It's the start of a fresh, new and happy life," he
beams. "I plan to live another 50 years."
Please send critical comments to: email@example.com for
the attention of Madeleine Sanam Foundation A HIV/AIDS
awareness organization for African Immigrants and Womens
empowerment based in Canada as well as for Foundation Education
Health Care Centre of the Father Pantaleon Foundation, based
in Mbano, Imo State Nigeria for a thematic HIV/AIDS prevention
and counseling services.