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Women claim 'forcibly' sterilised at State hospitals

28 May 2009
The Namibian
By: Denver Isaacs

Almost 20 HIV-infected women claim that doctors at State hospitals forced them to get sterilised.

At a workshop in Windhoek yesterday, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) said it was involved in 19 cases, reported since February last year, in which doctors and nurses allegedly decided to sterilise HIV-infected women.

Approached for comment yesterday, Health and Social Services Minister Richard Kamwi confirmed they had been informed of such rumours.

He said the Ministry was “looking into it”, adding that the practice was not condoned.

The LAC said it had tried to work with the Ministry on the matter, but had been greeted with silence.

“We spoke to the Deputy Minister, who was the one who first replied to media reports on the subject, but since then it’s been silence,” LAC Aids Law Unit’s Linda Chikalu said.

However, official sources have said when they asked for the names of those allegedly affected so that they could investigate the claims, they were told these could not be provided for reasons of “confidentiality”.

Asked for comment yesterday, the Deputy Registrar of the Health Professionals Council of Namibia, Cornelius Weyulu, said the council had not received any formal complaints.

“We have of course heard rumours, and recently at a meeting with the Ministry (of Health and Social Services), the Minister noted that he was concerned about something like this. But unless someone complains to us, there’s no way that we can really pick up on it,” Weyulu said.

According to one complainant who spoke during yesterday’s discussions, she only discovered months after giving birth to her first child that a form she had signed while being wheeled into a theatre, thinking it gave doctors consent to perform a caesarean section, actually gave them permission to remove her womb.

Litigation has started in eight of the 19 cases reported, Chikalu said, with trial dates for six expected to be set on June 17.

According to the LAC, it appears as if some medical practitioners allegedly target illiterate women and women who cannot read, write or speak English.
The majority of the women were allegedly asked to sign consent forms written in English while on their way to the delivery room.

All the alleged cases involved medical practitioners at State hospitals, including Windhoek’s Katutura and Central hospitals and the Oshakati State hospital.

A private doctor and former chairperson of the HIV-AIDS Clinicians Society, Dr Bernard Haufiku, said at yesterday’s presentation that explanations that HIV-infected mothers would pass on the virus to their newborn babies holds no water.

“Every single baby I have delivered came through without HIV,” Haufiku said.
He added that even where doctors felt a certain procedure would be better for a patient, the doctor was obliged to merely recommend treatment.

“The problem is that, especially in rural areas doctors are seen as demigods. You do things as they say,” Haufiku said.

He said patients should go to medical facilities with an attitude of “you don’t touch my body without telling me exactly what you are doing”.

The LAC is arguing the cases from the basis of the alleged practice being discriminatory against people living with HIV, as well as on the grounds that it goes against the individual’s right to plan and start a family.

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