Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Meet Abuja Matchmaker for HIV Patients Plus How He Started

Meet Ugochukwu Michael--  a 45year old matchmaker in Abuja, Nigeria who is making a difference with his services.

All of Michael's clients are living with HIV and he says he has some 7,000 clients on the books, ranging in age from 19 to 72. Six in seven of them are women.

He started his service in 2012 with the desire to help those he describes as Nigeria's "rejects" and charges a one-off fee of 2,000 naira ($6) for people who work, but his service is free for the unemployed.

"I cannot match-make anyone who is not on drugs - it is a lot of risk," Michael said.

After a failed attempt to migrate to Europe six years ago and the loss of his life savings from his job as a technician, Michael decided to volunteer with a Catholic organization where he learnt first-hand how HIV-patients are regarded.

When the threat of Boko Haram forced him to move from the northeastern city of Damaturu to Abuja in 2012, Michael decided the time was right to launch his HIV matchmaking service.

Weary of trying to persuade government agencies to invest in his idea, he headed out into the streets of Abuja at night, hanging up around 100 banners to advertise his project.

"By the following morning, my phone started ringing - so many people were calling me," Michael said, scrolling through the dozens of texts he receives from his clients each day.

Some of the texts ask for medical or fertility advice, while one comes from a man looking for an "HIV-positive sugar mummy".

When people started tearing the banners down, Michael turned to bright red spray paint to advertise his services.

"Strangers call me to express disdain for my work ... they accuse me of encouraging promiscuity," said the husband and father-of five, who declined to disclose if he has HIV or not.


Beyond setting up dates, Michael also ensures that every person he works with is registered with a specific hospital and that they are regularly taking their antiretroviral drugs.

Michael also provides his clients with free condoms and booklets about HIV, and teaches them about safe sex. For people seeking medical advice, he refers them to a doctor.

Flicking through several folders, Michael explains how he has a separate file for clients who have started seeing each other, another for those who have graduated to a serious relationship, and a different one for those who have married.

In March this year, the Nigerian government signed into law a new version of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act, which is designed to make it easier to understand.

Yet Michael said the law has had no impact on his service, or the thousands of HIV-positive people that he works with.

"Many people don't even know where to access drugs," he said. "They hear about these things but have no information.

"The enlightenment is not there - it is just not there."


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