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African HIV positive women are being forced into sterilization

They have been submitted to this practice without consent or after being pressured by health experts. 

African woman

African woman / Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | Luisa Fernanda Baéz

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Leer en español: Las mujeres africanas seropositivas se ven obligadas a esterilizarse

As read on Time, South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with a prevalence rate of 13% and about 7.7 million people living with the virus that causes AIDS. However, The World Health Organisation says that even though HIV-positive women have a 15 to 45% chance of infecting their baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, this can be reduced to below 5% with interventions including antiretroviral drugs.

Nevertheless, the impact of the epidemic has led to widespread stigmatization of those who are affected by the virus. According to Reuters, after investigating 48 specific cases, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) found that doctors in several hospitals had sterilized women about to have cesarean sections after telling them that carriers of HIV should not have children or that they would die if they had another baby.

In March 2015, according to All Africa, Her Rights Initiative and International Community of Women Living with HIV filed a complaint with the CGE on behalf of 48 women who had been forcefully sterilized at hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. The forced sterilizations occurred at 15 South African public hospitals between 2002 and 2005. 

CGE chair Tamara Mathebula said it was "not clear how widespread this problem is in South Africa, but we are hoping that the recommendations of our investigation will open the lid to matters that are not yet known in full", and Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize requested an urgent meeting with Mathebula to discuss the findings of the report. 

"Forced sterilization, a coercive contraceptive method, which involves surgically removing or disabling reproductive organs without full or informed consent, is a clear violation of bodily integrity, privacy, and bodily autonomy, and when endorsed by the State, it constitutes institutional violence", says the report.  

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 Part of the requirement for sterilization is that alternative care and treatments must be explained to the patient before a person is sterilized. These allegations suggest that the Complainants were coerced and/or forced to sign the consent forms without alternative methods being presented or explained to them. Moreover, the permanent or irreversible nature of the procedure was not explained to them", continues the paper. 

For example, a woman described the curt treatment she got from a nurse: “When I asked the nurse what the forms were for, the nurse responded by saying: ‘You HIV people don’t ask questions when you make babies. Why are you asking questions now, you must be closed up because you HIV people like making babies and it just annoys us. Just sign the forms, so you can go to the theatre."

As Nasreen Solomons, an attorney in the Women’s Legal Centre’s sexual and reproductive health and rights program said, women need to know that they should not be compelled to give their consent for the procedure “when they are in pain or placed under duress or conditions that do not allow them to provide their consent free of coercion, stigma, discrimination, harm, and judgment". 

Finally, the UN Human Rights wrote that the ICW report revealed that the fear of being manipulated into having an abortion or being sterilized may deter HIV positive women from seeking necessary medical treatment and counseling, and thus increase the risk of transmission. 

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