It was no minor achievement for the Bauchi State Agency for the Control of HIV and Aids/ Tuberculosis and Malaria (BACATMA), to arrange and sponsor 167 matched marriages between HIV positive couples in the span of 10 years as part efforts to curb spread of the disease in the state.
The most amazing part, however, was the 72 HIV negative children born from the marriages, Executive Chairman of the agency, Dr Mohammed Sambo Alkali, disclosed during the celebration of the 2018 World AIDS Day.
Alkali said that the feat was achieved as a result of improvement in Prevention Mother To Child ýTransmission (PMTCT) which reduced the incidences of infection from mother to the child. According to him, the PMTCT coverage rose from 54 percent in 2017 to 75 percent in 2018.
“Out of 318 dry blood samples (DBS) of infants born to HIV positive mothers sent out to Pulmorase Chainý Reaction (PCR) laboratories for diagnosis, 311 samples have been processed and results received which represents 97 percent coverage.
“The agency has established sample collection laboratory for transfer and retrieval of DBS and Viral Load samples to PCR laboratories outside the state to ensure that children born to HIV positive mothers have their status known, “he said.
According to him, the agency since its establishment adopted the strategy of encouraging HIV positive individuals to marry in order to curb the spread of the virus.
“We have laid down some stringent procedures to HIV positive individuals intending ýto marry. They have to follow all the procedures before they are allowed to marry and there are also measures to be taken after the marriage especially during pregnancy and after delivery to safeguard the children from being infected,” he said.
Dr Alkali said that, if the agencyý is satisfied with the intention of the intending HIV positive couples, they support them by giving priority to the person who needs support most.
“We look at the needs of each of the individuals and give all the necessary support. The support is not about the couples but about the family, the unborn childrený that need to be protected from infection and the proper medication of the couples as well as their economic wellbeing,” he said.
He said that, part of the support being provided by the agency in the marriages include paying bride price for the man and assisting the woman with means to sustain herself and the children.
The BACATMA Executive Chairman further disclosed that, with better access to treatment, care and support, the agency has given hope to thousands of people who returned to normal, productive lives.
He said the agency has supported 120 couples with food stuffs and has established PMTCT services in 323ý health facilities across all the political wards in the state.
He further disclosed that, 16,588 people living with HIV have been placed on treatment in the last one year and that 102,591 pregnant women have been tested, counselled and have collected their results.
Journey to matched marriages
The agency’s Director of HIV/AIDS Control, Danladi Abdu Mohammed disclosed that, the matched marriages was initiated by the pioneer chairman of the agency, Dr Rilwanu Mohammed in 2008 after a massive campaign.
He however informed that PMTCT started in 2006 when it was discovered that HIV positive and pregnant mothers were giving birth to HIV positive babies.
“The PMTCT started in 2006 . Mothers are placed on medication to reduce viral load during pregnancy while the infants are placed on HIV medication after birth for six weeks.
“The child blood sample are tested after 12 weeks and re-tested after18 months to confirm status. The mother is encouraged to feed her child ýwith her breast milk only,” he said.
One of the beneficiaries of the matched marriages is Abubakar Usman, popularly known as Ziko. Ziko, who married two HIV positive wives in 2007 and 2015 is the Bauchi State chapter chairman of Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN).
“I have seven children from my two wives. The one I married in 2007 has five children while the one I married in 2015 ýhas two children and they are all negative.
“One of our members has 23 children and over 10 of them were born all negative after knowing his status,” he said, adding that awareness has reduced stigmaý and encouraged people to access treatment, while the sexually active are marrying to reduce prevalence.