Forcible Sterilisation Rouses Interest

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By Wezi Tjaronda

WINDHOEK

The issue of forcible sterilisation of young women living with HIV has caught the attention of international women’s rights organisations that want to come to Namibia to conduct a pilot study on such practices.

Four organisations including Athena, Worldwide Young Christian Women’s Association, and IPAS South Africa contacted the Namibia branch of the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) after reading an article carried by New Era last week on forcible sterilisation by some health institutions.

ICW Namibia coordinator, Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, told New Era on Monday that some organisations heard about the practice in South Africa but after reading similar reports in Namibia, they decided to carry out a pilot project here.

Gatsi-Mallet said the organisations together with ICW Namibia would look into what can be done.

“We will need to go into communities to do data research,” she said, adding that the organisation will map out a plan of operation.

Meanwhile, two other women called New Era to talk about how they were sterilised by force.

New Era spoke to a 42-year-old woman who was supposed to give birth by Caesarian section. She was told that she could only be operated on if she agreed to be sterilised.

The woman, then 33 years and married, said, “I was in the prime years of child-bearing”.

She said she was four months pregnant when the doctor diagnosed her with cancer and a doctor told her she would only live for four months. She said she was sterilised on June 21, 1999 at Windhoek Central Hospital.

“He told me they would evacuate the pregnancy but then sent me for an HIV test. I was found positive, ” she said.

With no anti-retroviral therapy at the time, the woman said she did all she could to keep her baby until the time of giving birth, then she was told she had to be sterilised because “she was going to die anyway and no one would look after her babies”.

“I was given an ultimatum. If you want to have a Caesarian section, you should be sterilised. I consented because I had no choice,” she said.

She alleges that this happened while her husband was out of the country on duty and on his return he wanted more children, which she could not do.

“My husband ran away and even if I want to re-marry, how will I have kids,” she said.

She also said the baby she was carrying was born HIV positive and tested negative at 18 months because he was on medication. The child, however, died in a car accident, she said, and her other child died of malaria.

She alleges she has also been healed of cancer.

“It is very traumatising,” she said.

The matter was reported to the deputy minister of Health and Social Services and members of Parliament Elma Dienda and Hansina Christian at the end of a workshop attended by about 30 women in January.

Dienda said the deputy minister promised to institute an investigation into the case, while she (Dienda) would ask Minister of Health, Dr Richard Kamwi, about the matter when she gets proof from the women.

“I will not ask the question until I get proof. I am waiting for them to bring me proof,” Dienda added.

Last week Kamwi said he was concerned by allegations of sterilisation of young women diagnosed HIV positive.

He said health workers violated not only the reproductive rights of the women, but also the oath that they took when they joined the medical profession.

He said HIV/AIDS was like any other chronic disease with which people could still live with and have productive lifestyles.

Kamwi said people should be educated that if they have full-blown AIDS, it is unwise to fall pregnant, but this did not mean they should be sterilised against their will.

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