A new report published this week from South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality found state hospitals forcefully sterilized dozens of HIV-positive South African women. In many instances, investigators found hospitals threatened not to assist the women in giving birth unless they signed the sterilization consent forms.
According to ABC News, the commission’s 57-page report looked into complaints by at least 48 women of “cruel, torturous or inhumane and degrading treatment” at the hospitals across the country, including Johannesburg and Durban. In some instances, women were in labor when they were forced or coerced into signing up for the procedure. Doctors and nurses also reportedly told their HIV-positive patients that they shouldn’t be having children and would die they didn’t get sterilized after giving birth, Time reports. Dozens of women “consented” to the procedure by signing forms they didn’t understand.
One exchange quoted in the report reveals the callousness with which the women were treated. From Time:
“You HIV people don’t ask questions when you make babies. Why are you asking questions now?” the report quoted a nurse as saying. “You must be closed up because you HIV people like making babies and it just annoys us. Just sign the forms, so you can go to theater.”
HIV continues to carry a lot of stigma in South Africa, where about 7.7 million are living with a positive HIV status. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1 in 5 people living with HIV reside in the country.
Forced or coerced sterilization has been reported among HIV positive women in other countries, including Chile, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Kenya, in an attempt to curb transmission of the virus, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2012. But apart from being wildly unethical, research shows that sterilization isn’t an effective tool in combatting HIV transmission or the AIDS epidemic; more effective are prophylaxis regimens and other services that prevent mother-to-child transmission.
“Moreover, the ICW report revealed that the fear of being manipulated into having an abortion or being sterilized may deter HIV positive women from seeking necessary medical treatment and counseling, and thus increase the risk of transmission,” UN Human Rights wrote.
The forced sterilizations occurred at 15 South African public hospitals between 2002 and 2005. The commission has recommended further research be done into how widespread the practice of forced sterilizations is in the country.