By Maria Immaculate Owechi
Early last month, a pastor from Nakuru, Kenya refused to officiate a wedding ceremony of a couple that failed to submit their HIV results, which is a pre requisite requirement before walking down the aisle.
The unfortunate couple, Paul Waithaka and his fiancé Joyce Waithera had arrived at the Mizpah House of Prayer Church ready to recite their wedding vows but instead, they were humiliated after the church adamantly insisted they first meet the standards set by the church for them to be joined in holy matrimony.
Apostle Jesse Karanja, the pastor who refused to officiate the marriage between the couple defended his stand saying;
“Our church has set standards that must be met as far as birth, marriage and burial are concerned. The standards are not subject to discussion.”
In Uganda, Michael Aboneka’s story went viral when he sued Watoto church for stringent marriage requirements including an HIV test. He sighted that it is his mandated right not to reveal his status to the church. There was a big back lash from the people who insisted he was hiding something, and a few, who understood his point of view.
On the religious side, especially in Christian churches, medical check-ups for HIV/AIDs are strictly required before a couple is joined in holy matrimony.
Pastor Brian Katongole of Watoto Church says that this is done to ensure transparency and openness between the couple.
Couples who intend to raise a family, are advised to consider going for a medical check up to find out about each other’s health status. This is important in the long run for a healthy and productive marriage life. It also reduces unnecessary stress and problems that may arise later in the marriage because of medical conditions that could have been detected and tackled early.
Knowing your partner’s health status does not mean that marriage won’t be possible if they have a particular sickness, but it enlightens the couple to make a mutual decision to seek early treatment and prevent unnecessary stress in the marriage.
We spoke to Dr Moses Mugisha, a gynecologist with Roswell Women’s Clinic, Kololo who stressed that couples need to take pre-marital medical check-ups seriously in order to ascertain the risks, know if they are comfortable living with the risk and what kind of children they will get in case the risk is ignored.
These are some of the recommended medical check-ups for couples who intend to get married.
Test for HIV/AIDs
According to a recent report by World health Organisation (WHO), the highest prevalence rate for HIV/Aids infections is among married couples. Therefore, it is important for couples to consider testing for HIV so that they know how to take care of themselves and stop the incurable disease from spreading.
Knowing your partner’s status helps you to protect and seek medical care. In case your partner is found positive, the decision to go ahead with the marriage lies with you after the results. Mutual support and lifelong care is needed for partners found to be infected.
Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
STDs like hepatitis B and C also need to be tested.
Dr Mugisha explains that hepatitis B is an aggressive STD that affects the liver and is difficult to treat.
“We do not have liver transplant services in Uganda and it is costly and a hustle to get in line for it abroad,” he cautions.
He further explains that STDs like gonorrhea, syphilis and warts can be treated with proper medical care once detected early.
“Early detection and treatment helps to reduce the risk of infertility, miscarriages and cases of a child becoming blind because of failure to treat gonorrhea,” he adds.
These conditions also once not managed well can lead to a marriage break up since they affect a couple’s sex life.
This is important because one of the main things a couple looks forward to is getting children. Therefore, infertility issues should be addressed as early as possible to avoid unnecessary biological, psychological and emotional trauma associated with childlessness.
Dr Mugisha recommends that men and women should undergo the fertility test since both actively contribute a percentage of the hormonal factors to make a baby.
He explains that men are supposed to check the sperm count to assess its fertility while women can crosscheck for abnormalities which at times stem from childhood like vagina and cervix spilt into two, no uterus, no ovaries and swellings in the uterus called fibroids.
“You cannot see some of these abnormalities physically unless you go for a check-up,” he says, emphasing the need to see a professional doctor for these kinds of check-up.
It is important for couples to have a blood group that is compatible to avoid complications like rhesus disease during pregnancy. This is a condition where anti-bodies in a pregnant woman’s blood can kill her baby’s blood cells.
“If the woman is rhesus negative and the man is rhesus positive, the baby will automatically take after the father’s blood group which causes rhesus incompatibility leading to miscarriages,” Dr Mugisha explains.
If this is detected early, there are medical precautions that can be taken to help such a couple.
Testing for genetic and chronic medical conditions
These are hereditary diseases that can be got as a result of genes. This test involves screening for common genetic diseases like sickle cell, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, albinism and many others. Early testing of genetic or chronic conditions allows couples to seek medical care before the conditions reach a terminal stage.
Dr Mugisha cautions that a sickler (person with sickle cells) should not marry a carrier who has 50 percent chances or a fellow sickler who has 100 percent chances of having a child with sickle cell anemia.
“It is important for a sickler to marry someone who is normal and can dilute all those cells in order to have a child who is sickle cell free, “he advises.
Remember, marriage is a lifelong commitment which needs carefully thought out decisions. Getting into this institution knowing your health status will help strengthen the foundation of your commitment on this new life journey.