Nigeria's Anglican Church Imposes HIV Test before Marriage

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. An estimated 2.9 million of the country's 135 million people were living with the virus in 2005, according to the latest UNAIDS report. Some 300,000 adults were newly infected with HIV in 2005.

Other non-Anglican churches in Nigeria have imposed similar tests on parishioners who want to marry, reported the BBC.

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.

Prominent pastors such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels are spearheading church initiatives to help equip and network local churches in hard-hit areas such as in Africa and south Asia to better respond to and care for HIV-infected people.

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.

"We know that some people do it, but we are not making it church policy," said the Rev Fr Ralph Madu, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, according to BBC.

Nigeria is a deeply religious country with the population nearly evenly divided between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. The church in Nigeria is one of the fastest growing in the whole world.

Worldwide, there were an estimated 39.5 million people living with HIV in 2006 with 4.3 million people being newly infected with the HIV virus that same year, according to the 2006 UNAIDS report. Meanwhile, some 2.9 million people died of Aids in 2006.

Two-thirds (63 per cent) of all adults and children with HIV globally live in sub-Saharan Africa, while about one-third (32 per cent) of all people with HIV globally live in southern Africa in 2006.