Namibia court upholds sterilisation verdict

Supreme court upholds judgment from 2012 that health workers coerced three HIV positive mothers to consent to prodedure.

    The Southern Africa Litigation Centre says the women were made to sign the forms while in labour [File: Reuters]
    The Southern Africa Litigation Centre says the women were made to sign the forms while in labour [File: Reuters]

    Namibia's Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that health workers sterilised HIV-positive women without their consent.

    The original 2012 judgment had found that health workers had coerced three HIV-positive mothers to sign sterilisation consent forms they did not fully understand, while in labour.

    The Southern Africa Litigation Centre said the ruling sends a message to the government to stop the practice in the southwestern African nation, and elsewhere on the continent.

    Priti Patel, deputy director and HIV programme manager for the centre, told Al Jazeera the case was far from isolated.

    "What we think should happen now is that the government of Namibia needs to step up and start investigating the claims of these other women," she said.

    "The government needs to take active steps to make sure this stops happening.

    "This decision has far-reaching consequences not only for HIV-positive women in Namibia but for the dozens of HIV-positive women throughout Africa who have been forcibly sterilised," Patel said.

    Other cases have been documented in South Africa and Kenya, she said.

    Sterilisation is a drastic tactic to treat HIV-positive women, as mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS can be prevented with medication.

    Namibia's high court will assess how much money the three women should be awarded, according to the centre.

    Further allegations

    The women had all sought care at government hospitals in Namibia while in labour, with one woman signing a form that used only acronyms to describe the procedure, while another signed after being told she did not have a choice, the centre said.

    Since the case was first filed in 2009, dozens more women have spoken of cases of similar experiences at public hospitals to the Namibian Women's Health Network (NWHA).

    The NWHA first began documenting allegations of forced sterilisation of HIV-positive women in 2007.

    "These three women are only the tip of the iceberg," the network's director Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet said in a statement.

    "The government needs to take active steps to ensure all women subjected to this unlawful practice get redress."

    About 250,000 Namibians, more than 10 percent of the population, are living with HIV according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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