Bauchi State in Nigeria’s Muslim north has begun to help HIV sufferers get together and encouraging them to wed. They couples are even given the cash to put towards their wedding and counseling. The goal is to stop the spread of HIV in the region. The program will be formalized in 2009 although the budget does not yet exist.
94 marriages have taken place under the program. Idris, 32, and Umar, 39, are the 94th ceremony paid in part by the government. The government gave that couple $225 to help them set up their first home.
The program is not a match service for those with HIV but when they hear of HIV partnerships they encourage a legal marriage.
“I’m very happy to see my wedding day,” laughs Idris shyly. “I never expected I was going to marry because of my (HIV) status. But now I am happy and thank God that now we have a solution … we can marry within ourselves.”
In Nigeria 4 million of its 140 million people have the virus that leads to AIDS. It is the second largest HIV population in the world. Health experts warn that even with prevalence rates starting to drop slightly the country has to work at bringing the epidemic under control.
In Nigeria 36 states have programs to pair HIV couples.
“We live in a polygamous society where divorce is common and condom use is low,” says Yakubu Usman Abubakar, an official working with the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS, which runs the program. “If we can stop those who have the disease spreading it to those who don’t have the disease, then obviously it will come under control.”
With help from the Bauchi Action Committee on AIDS couples receive treatment and advice on how to not spread the virus to their future children.
Hannah and her husband Ziko are another couple who have married under the program.
“I’m so excited to be a mother,” says Hannah, now three months pregnant. “I have been eating a special diet and having medical checkups. I never imagined I could live such a normal life.”
Some have criticized the program’s allowing children to be born into families that likely will not survive long enough for their children to reach adulthood. Already there are 1.2 AIDS orphans in Nigeria as of 2007.
Health officials point out though that the average life expectancy is only 48 in all cases in the nation.
“Here you can’t assume that someone with HIV will die sooner than someone else,” says Abubakar, of the Bauchi program. “Especially if they are taking care of themselves, receiving good advice and proper medication.”