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Commission's report implicates the State in forced sterilisation of HIV+ women

A report by the Gender Equality Commission implicates the State in forced sterilisation of HIV positive women, writes MedicalBrief. The Health Professions Council has called on anyone with information to provide it so that doctors can be prosecuted.

According to a Netwerk24 report, HPCSA president Dr Kgosi Letlape said he is ashamed to be a doctor after the revelations.

'We think that forced and/or coerced sterilisation on women living with HIV is a violation of fundamental human rights. This to us, the CGE, is pure discrimination,' CGE chairperson Tamara Mathebula said.

'The practice further violated the complainants' right to dignity, bodily integrity and freedom and security over their bodies. In addition, the right to the highest attainable standards of health including sexual and reproductive rights were violated."

It further found that complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge on the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent, thus violating their right to information. Medical staff breached their duty of care to the women, they said. The CGE has referred its report to the Health Professions Council, the Nursing Council and the National Department of Health. The body also made several recommendations which include petitions to the SA Law Reform Commission for amendment to legislation.

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has called on everyone with information about "forced sterilisations" of HIV positive women to hand it to the regulatory body so that doctors can be prosecuted. According to a Netwerk24 report, HPCSA president Dr Kgosi Letlape said he is ashamed to be a doctor after the revelations.

The report supported complaints by the Women’s Legal Centre five years ago that 48 HIV positive women underwent sterilisations in state hospitals without their informed consent. Letlape promised firm action against any doctor who took part in these practices. The health department said it ‘noted’ the commission’s report and will comment later.

The inquiry said the women’s their rights had been breached, and called for government action, reports Business Day. The investigation was launched after two women’s rights organisations approached the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) in 2015 with 48 documented cases of coerced sterilisation. The CGE obtained sworn affidavits from the complainants on the alleged procedures. “All the women who had lodged the complaint were black women who were mostly HIV-positive,” CGE CEO Keketso Maema said.

Investigators found that hospital staff threatened to deny women medical attention if they did not sign the paperwork. The commission concluded that the women suffered several rights violations and were subjected to “degrading treatment”. It also accused medical staff of breaching their duty of care. The report, which has been sent to the national Health Department, advises the government to review sterilisation paperwork. A cooling-off period between the signing of consent forms and the operation itself was also recommended.

The report says the Health Ministry’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The investigation followed a complaint lodged with the commission almost five years ago by the Women's Legal Centre on behalf of Her Rights Initiative (HRI) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV, reports The Times. CGE chair Tamara Mathebula said a thorough analysis of the affidavits from the complainants by the commission's legal team revealed that most complainants had been suffering from depression from the time they learnt they would never be able to conceive due to the coerced/forced sterilisation to which they had been subjected.

Mathebula said in the report that South African law made it clear that sterilisation should not happen without informed consent and the report also found complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge about the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent, thus violating their right to information.

The commission sampled 15 hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where most complaints were lodged. News24 reports that the public hospitals sampled in the investigation included the Tambo Memorial Hospital in Boksburg, Tembisa Hospital, Edenvale Hospital, Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Umlazi, Addington Hospital in Durban and the General Justice Gizenga Mpanza Regional Hospital (formerly Stanger Hospital) in Durban.

The body also made several recommendations which include petitions to the South African Law Reform Commission for amendment to legislation that ensured consent was properly obtained in this practice.

The report says the national Health Department was given three months to report receipt of this report and must stipulate "what concrete steps the department will take in order to ensure the eradication of the harmful practice of forced sterilisation".

The Health Ministry said that the Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize has noted the media reports surrounding the CGE's findings and would meet with the commission urgently.

Commission officials investigating the claims experienced hostility from staff during hospital visits. In most cases, the commission said, staff were not co-operative, notes TimesLIVE. Outlining its challenges, the commission said some files could not be retrieved due to the department’s policy on retention of files. It said some files were too old and had, therefore, been destroyed.

“In others cases, records that had been kept manually could not be located, lack of sufficient detail contributed to certain hospitals not being able to locate files, and there was also considerable delay in getting affidavits from the complainants.”

‘The hostility was from both management and medical personnel. In some instances, members of the commission reported that in some hospitals (in Durban) the hospital staff tried to hide documents from them while others blatantly refused to indulge them,’ the report said.

[link url="https://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Gesondheid/skok-oor-gedwonge-sterilisasies-van-miv-vroue-20200225"]Full Netwerk24 report (subscription needed)[/link]

[link url="http://www.cge.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Forced-Sterilisation-Report.pdf"]GCE report[/link]

[link url="https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/health/2020-02-24-panel-urges-action-over-forced-sterilisation-of-hiv-positive-women/?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=JSE+slumps+as+virus+fuels+market+jitters+%7C%C2%A0Sasol+share+hits+15-year+low+as+the+bad+times+roll+on+%7C%C2%A0SA+bourse+looks+to+new+regions+to+bolster+listings&utm_term=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.businesslive.co.za%2Fbd%2Fnational%2Fhealth%2F2020-02-24-panel-urges-action-over-forced-sterilisation-of-hiv-positive-women%2F"]Full Business Day report[/link]

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2020-02-24-you-hiv-people-like-making-babies-forced-sterilisation-for-infected-women/"]Full report in The Times[/link]

[link url="https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/cruel-torturous-and-degrading-commission-on-forced-sterilisation-hiv-women-20200224"]Full News24 report[/link]

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2020-02-24-hospital-staff-were-hostile-towards-those-investigating-forced-sterilisation/"]Full report in The Times[/link]

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