By Wezi Tjaronda
Some young women have, unknowingly and forcibly, been sterilised because of their HIV status, New Era has learnt.
At a workshop in Windhoek last month, which brought together 30 young women living with HIV, three participants from the Khomas, Karas and Oshikoto regions said they were forcibly sterilised.
New Era spoke to two of the women who chose to remain anonymous for fear of stigmatisation.
A 25-year-old Khomas woman was sterilised without her consent on October 15, 2003 at Windhoek Central Hospital after giving birth by Caesarian section.
She said she only found out when she went to the hospital for a check-up.
“The nurse asked me if I was on any contraception but when I said no, she looked in my health passport and told me that there was no need because I was sterilised,” she related emotionally. She was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2000.
The nurse allegedly claimed that it was done to women living with HIV at all the hospitals because there was no point in having children in future, as they were positive.
The other woman was sterilised in 2001 after she fell very sick. She told New Era that she was admitted in March 2000 to Katutura State Hospital probably because of her HIV status, which she found out during the time she was admitted and was referred to another health worker for counselling.
After she told the counsellor that she was living with HIV and was expecting, the woman apparently told her that she would die and her baby would also die. She said she attempted suicide and started bleeding, which sent her back to the hospital.
This time, she was told they would abort the baby because “the pregnancy was damaged”.
“They told me they would conduct the abortion and sterilise me completely,” she said, adding that she objected to the sterilisation.
However, the health worker said: “If we can’t sterilise you, then we can’t carry out the abortion.”
“I later agreed because I feared for my life. They said they would remove my ovaries.”
After a few months, the young woman said she went to Onandjokwe Hospital where she was told that her ovaries were intact but her tubes were cut. She said she went to a doctor to ask whether the operation could be reversed.
The Aids Law Unit at the Legal Assistance Centre yesterday said this was not only a violation of the women’s constitutional rights but also a breach of the public service charter.
“It violates their rights as State subjects and as people that have reproductive rights.
“HIV should not be a condition for sterlilisation,” said Amon Ngavetene, Aids Law Unit Coordinator, yesterday.
He added that people had rights to autonomy and the health workers were supposed to provide information for patients to make informed and independent decisions.
Contacted for comment, Katutura State Hospital Superintendent, Dr Helen Nkandi Shiimi, said pregnant women living with HIV were treated the same like any other mother and she did not see how any health worker would sterilise a woman without their consent.
“Maybe someone is just coming up with some funny idea. No one can do anything like that,” she said adding that this was against the rights of the women.
Both women said this did not bother them at that time because they did not know their rights.
They said they are worried now that with technological advancement and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme, women living with HIV can have babies who are negative while they may one day decide to get married only for their husbands to discover that they cannot have children.
“And what if they find a cure for AIDS one day,” wondered the Khomas woman.
The workshop, which was hosted by the Namibian Branch of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids (ICW), brought together women living with HIV from all the 13 regions – the majority of whom were from Windhoek – to raise awareness on their rights.
On the final day of the five-day workshop, the women met policymakers to ask what the Government was doing about the violation of their rights. The policymakers to whom the matter was reported include Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Petrina Haingura, and MPs Elma Dienda and Hansina Christian.
The abuse of women’s rights has prompted the ICW to conduct a countrywide survey to determine how many women and girls have been forcibly sterilised because of their HIV status.
Due to ignorance, most people throw away their health passports when full and cannot read them so as to be able to ask pertinent questions pertaining to their health.
Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, ICW Namibia Programme Coordinator, said the policymakers were shocked about the sterilisation of the women and promised to investigate any centre that was reportedly involved.
However, New Era could not independently confirm whether or not the matter would be investigated because Haingura was out of the country, while Christian’s phone went off while this reporter was in the process of verifying the matter.