16 May 2001

Nigeria: Christian Leader Opposes Compulsory HIV/AIDS Testing

Lagos, Nigeria — Following a growing trend among Nigerian Churches to demand HIV/AIDS test certificates from prospective marriage couples, a prominent Church leader has condemned the practice in the country.

"I don't think it is a good idea to demand such from would-be couples. I think it is a bit going too far," said Sunday Mbang, Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

"We (Churches) all have to be careful how we handle this HIV/AIDS issue," he said.

Last month, the Baptist Church ordered its ministers nation-wide to demand HIV/AIDS test certificates from members seeking to be joined in Holy matrimony.

The decision made the Church the latest among those that have made such tests mandatory for would-be couples.

But Mbang said such mandatory tests could lead to discrimination and stigmatisation of people infected with HIV/AIDS.

"I personally would not encourage any Church to demand for HIV/AIDS certificates from intending couples before marrying them," Mbang said in an interview.

"Besides, Nigeria is not mature enough for that kind of practice, hence the Church still have the duty to protect people that suffer from AIDS from being molested, deserted, ridiculed and ostracised by the rest of the society," he said.

The CAN Chairman said the Church should do more to educate the congregation on HIV/AIDS, adding that the Association had been encouraging its members to develop a programme to combat the scourge in the country.

An estimated 2.6 million people are said to be living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, which has more than 110 million population.

Whereas the UN promotes confidential voluntary testing and counselling, it is against compulsory testing.

"Compulsory testing, frankly, just doesn't work," Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the UN AIDS agency (UNAIDS), Peter Piot, told PANA during the recent African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases in Abuja last week.

"It drives people underground, ...as is the case nearly everywhere that you don't even have prospective for any treatment. All that is waiting for you is bad news, negative news..." Piot said.

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