Court rules Namibian HIV positive women sterilised without consent
A judge in Namibia has ruled that three HIV positive women were sterilised without their informed consent, although there was no evidence this was because they were HIV positive.
Namibia’s Legal Assistance Centre brought the cases on behalf of the women, who were aged between 22 and 47.
During the period 2005 to 2007, the women elected to have caesarean sections to avoid the risk of their children becoming infected with HIV.
However, at the same time, they were asked to sign consent forms that used unintelligible acronyms that the women could not understand.
After being in labour for four days, one of the women was made to believe she could only have a caesarean if she signed the form.
All three women only realised the meaning of “BTL” (bilateral tubal litigation), the operation to which they were “consenting”, after surgery had taken place.
Judge Elton Hoff said the women should have not been asked to sign consent forms given the circumstances and ruled that they could not give informed consent. The hospitals therefore acted illegally and were in breach of the women’s human rights.
The courtroom was full of campaigners wearing t-shirts printed with the words “non negotiable; my body, my womb, my rights”.
Welcoming the judgement, the women’s lawyer, Amon Ngavetene, was reported in The Guardian as saying: “I was happy that the judge said we are moving from medical paternalism to patient autonomy”.
The case and surrounding publicity is also paving the way for other countries to take action against the forced sterilisation of HIV positive women. In Kenya, South Africa, and Swaziland women are coming forward to report similar cases.
Dr Norbert Forster, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Namibia’s Health Ministry, has now said that forced sterilisation of HIV positive women is not official government policy.
According to UNAids, 13% of Namibians are affected with HIV, a figure that is lower than other sub-Saharan African countries.