Namibia: African Women With HIV "Coerced Into Sterilization"
July 1, 2009
The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) is preparing later this year to sue the Namibian government after documenting several cases of HIV-positive women being forcibly sterilized before being provided vital medical care. ICW says the practice is widespread, and it alleges that Namibia's government is encouraging state doctors to sterilize HIV-positive women to prevent HIV's spread. Millions of women across Africa lack access to antiretroviral prophylaxis to prevent mother-to-baby HIV infection.
Some women were coerced into signing consent forms for sterilization minutes before giving birth and told it was a routine AIDS treatment, ICW said. "They were in pain, they were told to sign, they didn't know what it was," said Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, ICW's coordinator for Namibia. "They thought it was part of their HIV treatment. None of them knew what sterilization was, including those from urban areas, because it was never explained to them."
"After six weeks, they went to the family planning center for birth control pills and were told that it's not necessary: they're sterile," Gatsi-Mallet said. "Most of them were very upset. When they went back to the hospital and asked, 'Why did you do this to us?' the answer was: 'You've got HIV.'"
Some women are now afraid to visit a hospital, fearing sterilization. Husbands and communities often ostracize the infertile women, Gatsi-Mallet said.
ICW's inquiry about official Namibian government guidance on the matter has been rebuffed, so the group plans to bring some 15 cases to court. In South Africa, similar cases are being referred to the Women's Legal Center for possible action. Coerced sterilizations are occurring in "very large areas" of the country, said Promise Mthembu, a Witwatersrand University researcher.
Advocates say forcible sterilizations have also been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
The Guardian (London)
06.23.2009; David Smith
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.