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Should Nigerian Politicians Be Tested For HIV? - 2002-12-06

A controversy is brewing in Nigeria over calls for candidates in next year's general elections to undergo screening for HIV, the AIDS virus. Reporter Victor Osehobo has the story from Benin City, Nigeria.

According to Independent National Electoral Commission Officials in the capital, Abuja, several hundred thousand politicians will vie for office from all of Nigeria's 28 registered political parties in 2003.

The candidates are contesting for local, state and federal executive and legislative positions across the country.

Some voters say as part of current efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, all the candidates should be tested for HIV, the AIDS virus. The voters, however, are undecided as to what use the tests results should be put.

Mathew Urhoghide is leader of the pressure group. Association for Good Governance in Benin City. He says the success of Nigeria's democracy depends on honest leaders.

He says, "We have been advocating a philosophy where you have 'round' persons in 'round' holes. We want to encourage persons with good character to be in positions of leadership. Right now that is not what we have."

Omafo Imade is a member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party in Idogbo near Benin City in Midwestern Nigeria. He says HIV screening for political candidates is in the best interest of the electorate. He says it will also boost government's anti-corruption campaign.

He says, "The call is a welcome development more especially to some of us who know within us that we are free from HIV.

If candidates - and even those already in office - go for HIV screening, Mr. Imade says Nigerians will commend them for leading by example.

He says, "When you are in public position women look up to you-everybody looks up to you. And you weigh that influence on a lot of things."

But Wilson Imongan, a physician and past chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association in Benin City disagrees.

He says, "As an individual, I do not support compulsory HIV screening for anybody. It is an intrusion into your privacy and your right is being tampered with. And you have the right to refuse to be screened for HIV.

Dr. Imongan says the stigma attached to persons who test positive for HIV makes such tests for persons seeking election unnecessary and unreasonable.

He says, "What we know is when you are screened, if you are positive,the people distance themselves from you rather than distancing themselves from the virus...two,he is discriminated against and he becomes an outcast."

Some Observers say that many hospitals in the country lack basic diagnostic facilities for HIV/AIDS. They say some of the treatment centres recently created by the government are still awaiting the financial support.

They say facilities are already stretched to the limit. They say adding politicians to the list would not only be expensive but time-wasting.