‘Spouse Inheritance’ Fuels Spread of HIV in Africa
"Spouse inheritance" -- the practice of marrying a deceased relative's wife or husband -- is helping spread HIV in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, Panafrican News Agency/AllAfrica.com reports. Widows may have contracted HIV from their deceased husbands, posing a threat to the inheriting relative, or may be at risk of contracting HIV from the relative. Health authorities in Zimbabwe speculate that "thousands" of cases of spouse inheritance occur each year, especially in rural areas, although the nation remains "deeply divided" over the practice. Proponents of spouse inheritance contend that the traditional practice should not be outlawed, arguing that the practice both "lessens sexual promiscuity" and provides -- in the case of wife inheritance -- a means to care for the "financial needs" of surviving women and children. However, spouse inheritance is becoming less and less popular in Zimbabwe as awareness of HIV transmission grows. Ngonidzashe Kaseke, a sociologist from the University of Zimbabwe, said, "This (growing negative view of spouse inheritance) is because of AIDS which now calls for people not to treat any death as normal, but to investigate the cause of that death and the status of the surviving spouse" (Shoko, Panafrican News Agency/AllAfrica.com, 1/24). Opposition to spouse inheritance is also growing in Ethiopia, another nation where the practice is a tradition. Hawiyta Awili, head of the Women Affairs Bureau in the southwestern Gambella region, was recently quoted in the media as saying the practice was linked to the spread of HIV. In addition, participants at a recent seminar on "harmful traditional practices" in Gambella urged the federal and regional state governments to ban polygamy and wife inheritance to help stem the spread of HIV ( Panafrican News Agency/AllAfrica.com, 2/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.