Love is an amazing thing! However, living with HIV in Nigeria and finding true love can make life a little uncomfortable. Being in love, advancing with caution, or even getting married does not by design protect you from HIV.
But the 1 million dollar question is; can a typical Nigerian marry someone living with HIV in Nigeria? I know a lot of people would be a little dilly-dally, taking time to process their thoughts before uttering the next sincere response to the question.
I had a chat with an old friend the other day; the central discussion was on women as it’s common with Nigerian guys whenever they gather to share their evening glory. I asked him why he was still single. He laughed and answered that he’s looking for real love. I wasn’t surprised that he responded that Way.
My next question for him was, ‘’ so why aren’t you in love yet?’’ He replied that he hasn’t seen the right person. That was weird because I’ve seen him with various girls of all skin colors and body shapes.
I was curious; so I had to ask if he has ever been in love. He frankly said ‘’yes’’ and he paused. The look on his face changed, and He suddenly sunk into his chair and said, “She’s HIV positive.”
What’s wrong with that I asked? The disappointed look on his face speaks volumes. He retorted. ‘’If it was you, would you still marry her?’’ His question struck a cord and I responded of course yes. ‘’If I am in love with her? Why not?’’ but with a condition. I got his attention when I said with a condition. He became calm and listened attentively as I re-educate him on the subject of living as a discordant couple in Nigeria.
Choosing a life partner can be a tough decision to make, but choosing to marry someone who is living with HIV in Nigeria can present the toughest decision you’ll ever make in your life. Often, when looking for a life partner, qualities such as; maturity, openness, and compatibility are the core requirement. Other qualities include honesty, integrity, respect, independence, empathy, affection, sense of humor and the list can be longer than a teenage girls’ bucket list.
You may have to decide between a life partner and a wild sentiment help up against people living with HIV in Nigeria. When it comes to what you know about living with HIV? You’ll need to really check if what you’ve heard is right or wrong and make sure you know the facts.
The common ground between HIV and marriage is; they both create a permanent impression on you. Once you are in? It’s for life (marriage according to the good book in Ecclesiastes 9:9). Being caught up in a fix of marriage vs living with HIV in Nigeria is never easy when you have to choose between love and the risk for contracting an infection.
The battle on HIV might be worn but the war is still on. There is still an umbrella of discrimination hovering over people living with HIV in Nigeria, Just the sound of the word invokes mix feelings depending on which side of the wall one is standing on.
WHAT DOES LIVING WITH HIV REALLY MEAN?
Anyone who is diagnosed with HIV is characteristically living with it. This means that such a person was exposed to the virus, the virus is already present in the person’s blood, and an HIV diagnosis test has shown that such a person is living with HIV in the body.
Not like some other viruses or infections, the scientist has found that the human body cannot eliminate HIV completely, even with treatment. HIV is a tough virus to eradicate, once anyone has HIV, it’s for life.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE LIVING WITH HIV IN NIGERIA?
According to a blog published by Nigeria Health Watch in 2016, 3.4million people are living with HIV in Nigeria 
New survey results indicate that Nigeria has an HIV prevalence of 1.4%, as at 14 March 2019, this result was released by the Government of Nigeria. The statistic reflects adults aged 15–49 years. In other words, assuming we have a population of 200million, that’ll mean a whopping 2.8 million people are living with HIV in Nigeria.
‘’HIV has claimed more than 32 million lives so far”  Worldwide! Though, with growing access to effective HIV prevention in Nigeria, quicker and more dependable diagnosis, improved treatment and care services, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV in Nigeria to lead long and healthy lives.
The annual AIDS-related death has dropped. As shown in these statistics from advert.org 
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DISCORDANT AND CONCORDANT COUPLES?
According to Wikipedia  ‘’a serodiscordant relationship, also known as mixed-status, is usually one where one partner is infected by HIV and the other is not’’. It’s the opposite of sero-concordant relationships, in which both partners are of the same HIV status. Sero-discordancy is also implicated in the spread of HIV and AIDS, especially for uneducated couples.
WHAT PROBLEMS DO DISCORDANT COUPLES FACE?
Sero-discordant couples face several worries not faced by seroconcordant couples, especially as it relates to sexuality. Choices as to what level of sexual activity is safe for them, deliberating on practicing safer sex can further reduce but does not eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus to the HIV-negative partner.
HOW LONG DO PEOPLE LIVE WITH HIV IN NIGERIA?
Currently, life expectancy in Nigeria stands at 54.49 years, this figure represents a 0.58% increase from 2018.
Life expectancy for people living with HIV in 2019 has significantly improved. People living with HIV have considerably better-quality of life over the past two decades. A lot of people who are HIV-positive can now live much longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives when regularly taking anti-retroviral treatment (anti-retro viral treatment (ART)is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV)
Kaiser Permanente researchers found that life expectancy for people living with HIV and receiving treatment increased significantly from 1996 on. Since that year, new antiretroviral drugs have been developed and added to the existing antiretroviral therapy. This has resulted in a highly effective HIV treatment regimen.
In 1996, the total life expectancy for a 20-year-old person with HIV was 39 years. In 2011, the total life expectancy bumped up to about 70 years.
A 2017 study in the Journal AIDS found that the additional life expectancy for people with HIV at age 20 during the early mono-therapy era was 11.8 years. That number has however risen to 54.9 years for the recent combination antiretroviral era.
Faithfully Taking HIV medicine according to prescription can make your viral load (a measure of the number of viral particles present in an organism or environment, especially the number of HIV viruses in the bloodstream.) very low. This is also known as viral suppression (generally defined as having less than 200 copies of HIV virus per milli-liter of blood.)
Consistently taking HIV medicine can make your viral load so low that a test can’t detect it. This is known as an undetectable viral load. But doesn’t necessarily mean the person is cured of HIV. Maintaining an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy. Also, if your viral load stays undetectable, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative sex partner.
HOW TO TELL IF SOME IS HIV POSITIVE?
One fascinating thing about living with HIV in Nigeria is curiosity by people to identifying a person living with HIV/AIDS. In the early stage of the infection, it’s almost impossible to tell; people living with HIV look well and can contribute their quota to the society and lead a normal life just like any other uninfected person.
You cannot tell if someone is living with HIV just by looking at the person’s face. Usually, in the early stage of infection, the person shows no physical symptoms and it’s common that they are not aware of their status.
At the point of HIV infection, a person may present with symptoms within a few weeks of infection. These symptoms are similar to other common illnesses like malaria, common cold, guts infections, upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), etc. Some symptoms include may include but not limited to:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
Subsequently, symptoms might not show for many years.
It is common for people living with HIV in Nigeria to find out about their status at the late stage of infection when symptoms start showing or after the person falls seriously ill.
AIDS is the finale stage of HIV infection. Some symptoms are peculiar at this stage of infection. This includes but not limited to:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Soaking night sweats
- Kaposi’s sarcoma
- Cervical Cancer
Once a person is infected with HIV, his or her body’s defense mechanisms will start to weaken. Towards the end stage of HIV infection, the individual is at risk of “opportunistic infections“. (These infections are caused by other viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Typically, they are incapable of penetrating healthy immune systems).
The chief of HIV-related opportunistic infection is Tuberculosis (TB), an infection that mainly affects the lungs and causes long-term cough, fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Someone living with HIV whose immune system has been deteriorated by opportunistic infections will eventually develop AIDS.
CAN YOU MARRY SOMEONE LIVING WITH HIV?
It’s no longer news that you can have a negative baby even if the mother is living with HIV; nature has never got it wrong! So why not go ahead and give ‘’love’’ a chance while searching for a partner.
All you need to do is respect nature and try to understand things from a different perspective and faithfully take your ART. Regular visits to ARV clinics for health assessment and check-up can prolong your life if you’re living with HIV in Nigeria. These are normal things a healthy person would do.
Yes, you can have a successful family. It doesn’t necessarily take rocket science to achieve.
Here are a few tips!
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER?
Couples in mixed-status relationships can maintain an active sex life if they follow some basic principles.
- Correct use of condoms when having vaginal, anal, or oral sex reduces your risk of infecting your partner. (the condom does not only prevent unwanted pregnancy, but it also protects both partners from a majority of STIs including HIV.)
- Take your ART drugs faithfully. (Although antiretroviral drugs can’t cure HIV, they can significantly decrease the amount of virus in a person’s blood.)
- Don’t be sloppy about protection. Viral suppression requires strict adherence to an HIV treatment regimen and lifestyle changes, there are cases where the viral load may suddenly rise for unknown reasons; this is referred to as a “blip.”
- Be interested in your partner’s health status e.g. Viral load, TB testing, malaria, etc.
- Maintain a regular visit to the clinician or health care provider.
- Get a Health Insurance: this is like outsourcing the management of your health. It works perfectly well when combined with your personal awareness efforts.
- HIV-negative people can also protect themselves by taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (also known as PrEP), says Shannon Weber, MSW, director of HIVE. PrEP is one pill taken once daily that is safe and highly effective in preventing HIV.
- Always remember “You’re not only saving your life, but other people’s lives as well,”
- Exercise and stay fit: this doesn’t only keep your blood flowing seamlessly; it improves your breathing and weight.
- Join a community: communities make a difference. You are not alone. Join others and participate in the fight against HIV in Nigeria. Inline the 2019 world AID’s Day the “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community,” be an advocate and advance as a vanguard in your little neighborhood.
- Do not discriminate against people living with HIV. They deserve to live just like you and me.
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- Truvada pills, used for pre-exposure prophylaxis to help reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV. Photo by: NIAID / CC BY