Dozens of the women have been sterilised without consent.
Johannesburg – Dozens of HIV-positive women have been sterilised without consent or
after being pressured to agree just before giving birth,
sometimes being told while in pain on their way to the operating
theatre, a report published on Monday found.
After investigating 48 specific cases, the Commission for
Gender Equality (CGE) found that doctors in several hospitals
had sterilised 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 labour 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
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 theatre had included agreeing to
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 sterilised, 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 sterilised.”
The World Health Organisation 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.