THREE HIV-positive women in Namibia were coercively sterilised in violation of their rights, the high court in Windhoek has found.
The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) said yesterday the court ruled that obtaining consent from women when they were in severe pain or in labour did not constitute informed consent.
The court further found that failure to obtain the three women’s informed consent violated their rights under common law.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 and the women would be awarded damages, although the amount was still to be decided.
“This decision is a significant victory for HIV-positive women in Namibia,” said Nicole Fritz, executive director of the SALC. “This ruling affirms not only the rights of HIV-positive women but also of all women to access their sexual and reproductive rights,” she said.
The SALC said the women had sought antenatal services at public hospitals in Namibia.
“These three cases represent only the tip of the iceberg … HIV-positive women have come forward alleging they had been similarly subjected to coerced sterilisation at public hospitals in Namibia,” said Ms Fritz.
SALC deputy director Priti Patel said the court’s decision was the first step in ensuring that no other woman would be coercively sterilised in Namibia. “Now the government must meaningfully investigate all the other cases to ensure justice for every woman who has been coercively sterilised,” she said.
The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said there were about 180000 people living with HIV in Namibia, a country with a population of 2,1-million.
Sterilisation is a drastic tactic to treat HIV positive women, as mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be prevented with medication.