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HIV/AIDS test for couples

By Editorial Board
07 May 2017   |   4:00 am
It is undisputable that HIV, hepatitis, sickle cell anaemia continue to be perennial decimators of human life.

HIV test. PHOTO: TheConversation

It is undisputable that HIV, hepatitis, sickle cell anaemia continue to be perennial decimators of human life. Hence, the World Health Organisation WHO appropriately says that to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2020, Fast-Track targets have been set to accelerate the HIV response towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The Fast-Track targets apply to everyone: children, adolescents and adults; rich and poor; women and men; and all key populations (including sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people and prisoners). The Fast-Track approach also calls for zero infections among children. Therefore, whatever could be done to curb the spread, and in this case spare unborn babies, in particular, from contracting the disease should be supported. So, reaching the Fast-Track targets for 2020 requires taking HIV programmes to a new level through intensified prevention, using multi-sectoral collaboration across various levels of government.

Hence, the move by Kano State Government to compel couples to undergo HIV screening before marriage is a step in the right direction. According to the Director General of KSACA, Dr. Bashir Usman, plans are in top gear for the Kano State government, through the Hisbah Board, in collaboration with the Kano State Agency for the Control of AIDS (KSACA), to come up with a law that would compel couples to undergo HIV screening before marriage. Furthermore, the proposal would include screening for sickle cell and hepatitis, adding that the gesture would save many lives, as well as, make the state epidemic-free.

Similarly, the Kaduna State House of Assembly has passed a Pre-marital Medical Examination Enforcement Law for intending couples, giving a window of three months and two weeks as a deadline for medical check-up before marriage. The new law states that “HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and genotype tests, which will be conducted simultaneously for both parties in an approved health facility, and the result explained to them by a qualified doctor, is to be kept confidential, and to be handed by the parties, over to the person who is to conduct the marriage contract in the presence of witnesses. To ensure compliance and credibility, the House also sets aside a fine of N200, 000 or one year imprisonment, or both, for any health facility, health worker or any person that issues a false result, adding that whoever assists in the issuance of such result would be liable for conviction.

Although critics say that making would-be couples undergo HIV screening before marriage is a human rights violation, as Nigeria’s constitution secures the privacy, dignity and integrity of the person and human body, but not testing is to the detriment of all. So, it must be recognised, that rights ends where other rights begin on; and 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.

This initiative is not peculiar to Nigeria. For about three decades, clerics in countries like Kenya, Uganda and others in the Eastern and Southern Africa sub-regions routinely demand HIV test results from prospective couples, a measure to curb the spread of the disease. The overriding belief is that it is not good to wed people today and bury them tomorrow. This measure has helped, in no small way, to curb the spread of the disease in the above mentioned countries.

Therefore, the Kano State government should be commended for this initiative that is focused on stopping the spread of HIV, especially mother-to-child transmission. Indeed, HIV screening before marriage will address HIV prevalence in the state. So, the process should be client-friendly. Prospective couples should first be counselled by the marriage committees of their places of worship before proceeding for the test. The result of such test should be confidential. Not even the reports of those who test positive should be passed on to a third party or be stigmatized in any way but counselled accordingly.

Essentially, HIV screening before marriage is about knowing the status of people to enable them make informed decisions and avoid harming loved ones. HIV screening is for the safety of all and sundry and citizens should support the initiative. Therefore, public enlightenment is crucial. The public should be enlightened that HIV is no longer a death sentence but something that could be managed if detected early, using anti-retroviral drugs, which are given free-of-charge to People Living with HIV and AIDS in healthcare facilities all over the country.