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International News
Nigerian Advocacy Group Encourages HIV-Positive Couples to Marry, Offers Counseling, Other Services

March 10, 2009

An HIV/AIDS advocacy group in Nigeria's Bauchi state is encouraging HIV-positive people to marry one another in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading to HIV-negative people, the AP/ reports. The program is run by the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS and offers counseling and money to couples who are living with HIV/AIDS and are planning to marry.

According to the AP/, the group does not yet have a budget for the informal program but 94 marriages have occurred among HIV-positive couples since the program began two years ago. Yakubu Usman Abubakar, an official working with the group, said Nigerians "live in a polygamous society where divorce is common and condom use is low." She added that if officials "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 program does not aim to introduce HIV-positive people, as that would require releasing private medical information, but officials will "step in quickly" if they become aware of couples with two HIV-positive members and encourage them to marry legally, the AP/ reports. The program provided one couple with $225 toward the cost of establishing a home together, the AP/ reports. In addition, women in the program who are pregnant are offered counseling and treatment to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. The AP/ reports that some health experts have criticized the program, arguing that the country will experience an increase in the number of orphans if HIV-positive couples are encouraged to have children. The United Nations reports that 1.2 million AIDS orphans lived in Nigeria in 2007. Although some orphans are adopted by relatives or find care through charitable organizations, "many will end up on the streets," the AP/ reports.

However, officials in Bauchi note that the life expectancy in Nigeria is 48 years and argue that the program has benefits. Abubakar said it cannot be assumed that "someone with HIV will die sooner than someone else," particularly "if they are taking care of themselves, receiving good advice and proper medication." Advocates of the program also say that the "positive marriages" provide more than companionship in a society where HIV/AIDS-associated stigma is common. According to the AP/, Bauchi is the only one of the country's 36 states known to have such a program.

According to United Kingdom's Department for International Development, about four million of Nigeria's 140 million people are HIV-positive. The AP/ reports that while HIV prevalence in Nigeria has decreased slightly to about 4% over the past three years, many health experts warn that the country "still has a lot of work to do to bring the epidemic under control" (Pownall, AP/, 3/7).

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