In a bid to check the spread of the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) in the country, the Federal Government has approved the conduct of compulsory HIV tests on intending couples before the solemnization of Christian and Muslim marriages in the country.
Under this initiative, no marriage can be conducted in Churches and Mosques unless religious leaders in the places of worship confirm that the intending bride and groom have taken HIV tests.
The decision on compulsory testing is part of the new National HIV Prevention Plan released by the Federal Government during the National Prevention Plan Validation meeting in Abuja last week. According to the Director of Bauchi State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Malaria, Dr. Yakubu Abubakar, the new measure is to prevent new HIV infections and curb further spread of the disease.
The Federal Government, however, did not include traditional marriages in the “no HIV test, no marriage” policy, possibly because of the largely informal nature of such marriages.
As explained by Abubakar, the new HIV Prevention Plan is an improvement on the previous one because it has input of local communities and stakeholders in the states and at the national level. He also stressed that the plan took into consideration the peculiarities of each state with regard to prevalence rate, mode of transmission, culture and approach to HIV prevention.
Although HIV testing, ordinarily, should be voluntary so as not to infringe on the right of the people to privacy on issues pertaining to their health, we welcome the plan to make intending couples undergo the test. We appreciate and support the government’s position on this matter because of the increasing seriousness of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the country. So many lives have been lost to AIDS in Nigeria, with a growing number of children orphaned by the ailment. So much money is spent on provision of anti-retroviral drugs to infected persons, while the Prevention-of-Mother-To-Child-Transmission (PMTCT) initiatives constitute a financial burden to the health sector.
With this huge cost of the disease to the country, AIDS may no longer be a private affair of individuals. It has, therefore, become necessary to support the government and the health authorities in this effort to curb the spread of the disease through increased testing. Testing for HIV before marriage will help intending couples to know their status, so that they can decide whether to go ahead with the union. They will also be able to learn the necessary precautions to take to avoid transmission of the infection to their partners, and their babies. The government’s position will help to ensure that no one gets married to an infected person out of ignorance. Ultimately, the health authorities should actively work towards encouraging all Nigerians to know their status. In this regard, efforts should be made to find a way to make testing compulsory for those planning to do traditional marriages, too.
To achieve the desired objective, we urge intending couples and religious institutions to abide by the letters and spirit of this regulation whenever its enforcement commences. Already, teaching hospitals conduct the test for pregnant women. A number of churches also require that HIV/AIDS tests be conducted before joining intending couples together. This is the wise thing to do as it is in the best interest of both the bride and groom.
Mandatory HIV tests, we believe, will also help the government to know the number of those affected by the illness so as to be able to plan for counseling services and other medical interventions.
Government should embark on massive enlightenment programmes to explain this initiative so that its good gesture and intention would not be misconstrued. Nigerians should be adequately informed about the test and how to go about it. Government should involve all Nigerians in this quest because HIV does not discriminate on account of gender, race or creed.
Beyond HIV/AIDS, intending couples should also be mandated to take the sickle cell test to determine their genotype so that they will not give birth to children with sickle cell. Testing for these ailments has become necessary because the issue goes beyond the bride and groom to their communities and the nation at large.
The plan for mandatory testing for HIV must, however, go beyond the approval of the National AIDS Prevention Plan. The government should send an Executive Bill to the National Assembly so that the policy can have the necessary legal backing. This will help to reduce new infections. The passage of a law on compulsory testing, alongside public education and moral suasion on the need for these tests, will go a long way in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.