Africa: HIV Positive Women Sterilized, Discriminated Against and Stigmatized

On August 31st  2010, PlusNews and IRIN in Johannesburg highlighted the story of Veronica (a pseudonym), a HIV+ woman, who found out that she has been sterilized by nurses without any warnings [fr]:

Veronica* did not realize she had been sterilized while giving birth to her daughter until four years later when, after failing to conceive, she and her boyfriend consulted a doctor.
“I was like ‘Okay, fine’, because there was nothing I could do by then, but I was angry. I hate [those nurses],” she told IRIN/PlusNews. Veronica tested HIV-positive during a routine antenatal visit and was given a form to sign by nurses at the hospital where she went to deliver.
“I didn't know what it was all about, but I did sign,” said Veronica, who was 18 at the time and had been scolded by the nurses for being unmarried.

On June 4th,  Servaas van den Bosch of IPS asked: «Are Namibian Women Being Forcibly Sterilised? (Les femmes sont-elles en train d’être stérilisées de force?)»[fr] :

Un procès historique, prétendant que des femmes séropositives ont été stérilisées de force dans des hôpitaux publics en Namibie, a commencé le 1er juin à la Haute cour à Windhoek, la capitale du pays.
Des groupes de défense des droits humains affirment que la pratique a continué longtemps après que les autorités ont été informées.
Le Centre d'assistance juridique (LAC) basé à Windhoek est en train de défendre 15 cas présumés de stérilisation forcée. Les cas de trois femmes seront entendus au début. Chaque femme demande l'équivalent de 132.000 dollars US de dommages et intérêts.

A historical trial took place June 1st at the High Court of Windhoek, the capital city. HIV+ women assert that they were sterilized by force in public hospitals of Namibia.
Human rights activist groups affirm that the practice continued long after the authorities were informed
The Legal Assistance Center (LAC) based in Windhoek is defending 15 cases of alleged forced sterilization. Three cases will be heard first and each women are asking for $132,000 USD for damages and interest.

The first cases of sterilization were found first by the International Community of Women (ICW) living with AIDS. Veronica Kalambi of ICW declares [fr]:

Les premiers cas sont apparus au cours des réunions communautaires au début de 2008. Dans les mois qui ont suivi, nous avons interrogé 230 femmes, parmi lesquelles 40 ont été stérilisées contre leur gré”,

The first cases appeared during communitarian meeting in early 2008. In the following months, we interviewed 230 women, of which 40 were sterilized against their will.

Reacting to the article about forced sterilization in 2009 in Namibia in the comment section, Maxi opines:

Despicable brutes! – do you also castrate HIV+ men ? So Dr Menguele's legacy is still alive and well in Namibia. What a shame, these doctors who soil the ethics of their mission.

Zimunina M. adds:

Hi there! Dear doctor, what will you tell these women that you just sterilized if tomorrow a cure for AIDS becomes available in Namibia ? In my opinion, you belong in prison and the government and the WHO should take away your diploma

The website also reposted an article on The Guardian by David Smith from  Johannesburg that denouces those practices:

In South Africa, cases are being referred to the Women’s Legal Centre with a view to a possible action. Promise Mthembu, a researcher at Witwatersrand University, said coerced sterilisations were happening in “very large areas” of the country.
Many patients were forced to undergo the operation as the only means of gaining access to medical services, Mthembu told the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

rmbengou, on AIDS RIGHTS CONGO also denounces these medical practices. He writes in a post entitled: “In Central Africa, HIV-positive women are blamed for their sexuality“:

Gabriel Maliyere, the head of the AHVV program, emphasizes how “the behavior of medical personnel is deplorable. After their prenatal exams, HIV-positive women are condemned for the fact that they’re pregnant.”

HIV-positive women are expected to cease having sex and conceiving.  In this sense, women are blamed for their sexuality. Yafouta-Kaïe, a member of the National Congress of Young Women Living with HIV/AIDS (CNJFV+), claims: “Above all, it is the hurtful words and the coldness of certain midwives, during childbirth, towards women living with HIV.”


In the same article, he indicates that a few projects are underway to change this situation:

Other public campaigns, HIV/AIDS film screenings, and debates over the rights of HIV-positive persons, were organized on December 8 and 9, 2009, northwest of Bangui and in the 8th arrondissement. During these campaigns, speakers presented on the following themes, which were especially chosen for this educational day : “I am secure, I am accepted, I am receiving treatment, I am in firm possession of my rights, the right to live, and to wellbeing.”

Unfortunately those are not isolated cases. In an article on, Habibou Bangré reveals that [fr]:

…exceptée celle du Togo, toutes les lois des pays africains – et celles d’autres Etats hors du continent – peuvent s’appliquer pour pénaliser la transmission du VIH de la mère à l’enfant. En conséquence, une femme séropositive qui transmettrait le virus à son enfant au cours de la grossesse, l’accouchement ou l’allaitement pourrait être poursuivie en justice. La Sierra-Leone va même plus loin et condamne spécifiquement la transmission mère-enfant, remettant ainsi en cause le droit des femmes séropositives à procréer.

Except for Togo, the legal write-up of most african countries- and as a matter of fact, outside the continent- can be implemented in a way that will penalize the the mother to child transmission of HIV. Therefore, a HIV+ woman who would transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy, child birth or nursing can be charged in a court of law. In Sierra Leone, it goes further and condemns specifically the mother-to-child transmission, therefore possibly revoking the reproductive rights of HIV+ women.

Two bloggers were outraged and commented thusly:

pvvih says :

A state that implements such measures must make ARVs available to all first. I am an African student and I am taking ARVs. ARVs that many consider a panacea are not easy to take. They sometimes bring more suffering than good. Countries must support research for better treatments and therefore give more money.

Mona adds:

Some of these women were abused, violated and raped etc. Why must they be punished? And men in all that, don't they have some responsibilities in this matter? Let's cure these women instead of punish them. Let's give them contraceptives, guidances etc… this is really scandalous.

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