Nigeria and HIV testing

The Anglican Church of Nigeria now requires couples seeking marriage to have blood tests for HIV. Christianity Today reports:

The Anglican Church in Nigeria has made it manditory for couples wishing to be married by the Church to first take a HIV test.

HIV tests are required to help couples make more “informed choices” when choosing marriage partners, said the Rev Akintunde Popoola, spokesman for the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

“The aim is to help intending couples to make informed decisions because we don’t want anyone to be kept in the dark about their partner,” he said, according to the BBC News website Friday.

“The whole point is for the couples to know their HIV status before getting married.”

Yet the church is careful to point out that it is up to the couple whether to marry in cases where one of the partners has the HIV virus. Popoola said the church will offer the couple care and support if they decide to tie the knot despite the discovery of infection in either or both partners.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates – trailing behind India and South Africa only.

Other non-Anglican churches in Nigeria have imposed similar tests on parishioners who want to marry, reported the BBC. [Update: But see this comment by Akintunde.]

Western Christian leaders have also urged people to take HIV tests and for the Church as a whole to become more involved in the battle against HIV and Aids.

At the annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church hosted by Saddleback Church, Warren along with presidential candidates Republican Senator Sam Brownback and Democratic Senator Barack Obama all took the Aids test to encourage the practice.

In Nigeria, not everyone supports the Anglican Church’s new mandatory HIV testing for marrying couples, however.

“We cannot accept what the church is proposing. Every Nigerian must be allowed to decide on their own whether they want to be tested or not,” said Professor Tunde Oshotimehin, who heads Nigeria’s state HIV control agency, according to BBC.

“HIV testing and counselling must be voluntary. What the church is trying to do will encourage denial.”

The Catholic Church in Nigeria is one Church that has decided against imposing such a policy, explaining that it wants HIV testing to be voluntary and personal.

The BBC reports the Nigerian government is investigating whether Covenant University, owned by the Pentecostal Living Faith Church of Nigeria, requires graduates to take an HIV test:

Nigeria’s AIDS control agency says the new policy is illegal.

But the Covenant University says its policy had been misunderstood by the media.

“We are not testing our students for HIV,” Covenant University spokesman Emmanuel Igban told the BBC News website.

“What we do is a general medical test at the point of entry or admission and at graduation.”

The university says it wants to produce “total graduates” which means in addition to passing all examinations, Covenant University graduates must be “morally upright” too.

The National Agency for the Control of Aids (Naca) calls the university’s action “a breach of the fundamental human rights of the students”.

Nigeria is a deeply religious country with her 140 million people almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.

It is a deeply religious country, at least in some sense.

The BBC yesterday carried the story of public reaction to the release of men on bail who were accused of crossdressing in the Muslim province of Bauchi:

Although they were initially accused of sodomy, the charges have now been changed to “indecent dressing” or cross-dressing and “vagrancy”.

“Any (male) person who dresses .. in the fashion of a woman in a public place… will be liable to a term of one year or 30 lashes” a spokesman for the local sharia police, Muhamad Muhamad Bununu, told AFP news agency.

The Sharia punishment for sodomy is death by stoning, but he said that was much harder to prove as four witnesses were needed. More than a dozen Nigerian Muslims have been sentenced to death by stoning for sexual offences ranging such as adultery and homosexuality.

But none of these death sentences have actually been carried out – either being thrown out on appeal or commuted to prison terms as a result of pressure from human rights groups. Many others have been sentenced to flogging by horsewhip for drinking. There have been two amputations in north-western Zamfara State – which pioneered the introduction of the Islamic legal system in the country.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is a conservative society where homosexuality is considered a taboo.

No news on whether Nigerian Muslims are required to submit to HIV tests before marriage, or what the consequences of a positive test would be.

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