In-depth: Love in the time of HIV/AIDS

MAURITIUS: No longer forbidden love

Photo: Natalia Reiter/IRIN
Anna Magurra *arrived on the tropical Indian Ocean island last summer.
Port Louis, 9 June 2008 (PlusNews) - Last year, Camille Liu's* future was looking good. He had met a woman - "a perfect match" – while working in Mozambique as an electrician. They fell in love, decided to move to his home country, Mauritius, get married and have children.

But when Anna Magurra* arrived on the tropical Indian Ocean island, ready to accept her fiancé's proposal, a few bureaucratic issues stood in the way of their marriage - one of them was an HIV test.

Anna's test results came back positive. "I was shocked, devastated, incredibly sad and terrified," Camille related.

A few days later officials told them they would not be allowed to marry and that Anna had to leave the country within days.

According to Mauritian law, all foreigners who want to get married to Mauritians must test for HIV and if they are HIV positive, they are deported to their countries of origin.

Earlier this year, however, the government amended the legislation, and the couple can now legally tie the knot.

Fighting to get married

Sitting in a café in the capital, Port Louis, Camille, a Mauritian-Chinese in his mid-30s looks happy and relaxed for a man about to get married this week.

"After the big shock I got myself together," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "I promised her I would fight and do everything to marry her and help her to stay with me in Mauritius."

Camille approached Dhiren Moher, an AIDS activist, and one of the few people in the country who have publicly disclosed their HIV positive status. Moher then launched a campaign to get the government to change its discriminatory policies.

But the fight is not over yet. Mauritius still has laws which prohibit HIV-positive foreigners from getting a work permit, and Moher is now calling for the state to change this law.

Camille and Anna's wedding will be a small ceremony, attended by their closest family members, who have been supportive of the couple's battle.

Neighbours do not know about their situation, and stigma is a battle they know they are yet to win in a country in which very few people are open about their status.

"We want to keep this secret so that our life will be a little bit easier," Camille said.

The Indian Ocean island has an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 1.8 percent, but the country's rising drug problem puts many more people at risk.

Drug abuse accounts for 92 percent of new HIV infections in Mauritius, up from just 14 percent in 2002.

"Such laws as the one forbidding [people] to marry HIV-positive foreigners are not helping to solve the AIDS problem at all," said Nicolas Ritter, an activist with local AIDS group PILS (Prevention, Intervention, Lutte contre le SIDA).

"This law discriminates against people and deprives them of their most basic rights," Ritter, one of the first people in Mauritius to publicly disclose his status, told IRIN/PlusNews.

* Not their real names.

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