JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Dozens of HIV-positive South African women have been sterilized without consent or after being pressured to agree just before giving birth, sometimes being told while in pain on their way to the operating theater, a report published on Monday found.
After investigating 48 specific cases, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) found that doctors in several hospitals had sterilized women about to have caesarean sections after telling them that carriers of HIV – which causes AIDS if not treated – should not have children or that they would die if they had another baby.
“In some instances, complainants were given the forms while they were in extreme labor pain and were told that they would not receive medical assistance until they had signed the forms,” said the report, which concluded a five-year investigation into 48 cases brought to the CGE by two civil rights groups.
CGE chair Tamara Mathebula said it was “not clear how widespread this problem is in South Africa, but we are hoping that the recommendations of our investigation will open the lid to matters that are not yet known in full”.
Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize requested an urgent meeting with Mathebula to discuss the report, his department said.
The report cited the testimonies of several mothers. One said she had been refused help with the birth if she did not sign the consent form.
Another said she had not known that the consent form she was shown on the way to theater had included agreeing to sterilization.
A third said she had signed a form while in pain on the way to have a caesarean section, and had not known what it meant to be sterilized, only finding out later from a private gynaecologist that she could no longer conceive.
“The Complainants could not reasonably be said to have consented to the procedure,” the report said. “They were therefore forced and/or coerced into being sterilized.”
The World Health Organization says HIV-positive women have a 15–45% chance of infecting their baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding – but that this can be reduced to below 5% with interventions including antiretroviral drugs.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Kevin Liffey)