Ekiti State and HIV test before marriage
THE move by the Ekiti State Government to ban clerics from demanding HIV status report from prospective couples before marriage is wrong given the fact that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a deadly disease that poses great danger to human existence. Therefore, whatever could be done to curb the spread and in this case spare unborn babies, in particular, from the disease should be supported. The demand for HIV test has nothing to do with stigmatisation but purely a proactive step designed to save prospective couples, their families and society at large from the deadly infection.
Moreover, this request for HIV test is not limited to Ekiti State alone. As a matter of fact, it applies across many states of the federation for the same purpose. Beyond that, for about three decades, clerics in countries like Kenya, Uganda and others in the Eastern and Southern Africa sub-regions routinely demand HIV status report from prospective couples as a control measure before marriage, the overriding belief being that it is not good to wed people today and bury them soon afterwards.
There is no doubt that this measure has helped, in no small way, in curbing the spread of the disease. The Ekiti State authorities should, therefore, reconsider its stance. Nobody is actually compelled to undergo the test. Prospective couples are first counseled by the marriage committees of the various churches and mosques before proceeding for the test. The result of such test is usually confidential. Not even those who tested positive are stigmatized in any way but counseled accordingly. Rather than vilify the clerics, therefore, they should be lauded for adopting measures that complement government’s effort in ridding the state of HIV/AIDS. The battle against HIV/AIDS is such that government alone cannot fight it.
During the commemoration of World AIDS Day in Ado Ekiti, the other day, the Project Manager of Ekiti State Action Committee on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Charles Olusegun, said the State Government would soon promulgate a law banning churches and mosques from compelling prospective couples to go for HIV/AIDS test before wedlock. He said the law would make it an offence for exposing results of such test to a third party and also disclosed that a bill had already been sent to the State House of Assembly that would soon be passed into law.
According to him, it is illegal for priests or others to mandate people to go for HIV/AIDS screening exercise before marriage. And for those who volunteered to go for the screening, the result should not be disclosed to a third party.
The concern of the Ekiti State Government on the HIV/AIDS test issue is understandable as it borders on possible stigmatisation of people who tested positive. But the campaign against stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS sufferers has long been on the front burner. Various governments, international organisations, including United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations have been involved in this campaign. It is, therefore, not a matter that concerns Ekiti State alone.
Rather than dwell on stigmatisation, the Ekiti State Government should be more concerned about how to stop the spread of the disease. How to stop mother-to-child transmission, especially, in the case of newly married couples, should engage the attention of the state government. It should be noted that HIV test requirement is not limited to prospective couples alone; pregnant women, as a matter of necessity, are tested for HIV during ante-natal clinic, to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Besides, nurses, doctors and other medical personnel are routinely tested for HIV, all aimed at curtailing the spread of the disease.
The Ekiti State Government should, therefore, join in the campaign to combat HIV/AIDS and in addition to the preventive measures being adopted, public enlightenment is crucial. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence but something that could be managed if the sufferer presents him or herself to the appropriate quarters early enough. There are anti-retroviral drugs that are now available, which are given free-of-charge to HIV/AIDS patients. All that the sufferer needs to do, once diagnosed positive, is to go to the nearest healthcare facility to register for free drugs. Governments like Ekiti State should acquire more generic drugs and make them available at more healthcare facilities, where patients can easily access them. That would be a better contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS than banning churches and mosques from demanding HIV status reports from marrying couples.
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