Protect the Rights of Pregnant Namibian Women Living with HIV: Saying “No” To Forced Sterilization

Target: Dr. Richard N. Kamwi, Minster, Namibia Ministry of Health and Social Services

Goal: Protect the rights of women living with HIV by providing equal rights and access to healthcare free of coercion.

According to recent reports, Namibian women living with HIV are often times neglected proper healthcare when and where they need it most. A combined effort from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, Northeastern Law School and the Namibian Women’s Health Network has found that some government hospitals are doing more harm than good for these HIV-infected women. “We often assume that hospitals are healing places,” explained Aziza Ahmed, an assistant professor at Northeastern Law School, “where people living with HIV receive medical services in a safe facility, from trustworthy health practitioners. While this can be the case, women living with HIV in Namibia often report serious mistreatment in hospital settings.”

Namibian women reported experiences in which they were forced or heavily coerced into agreeing to be sterilized—often times under extreme duress. In these instances, medical personnel withheld important information concerning the procedure including its effects, risks, and ultimate consequences. Other times, women were forced to assent if they wanted access to other medical services like a child delivery or abortions, and even access to their own medical records. “At the hospital there are no human rights,” explained a Namibian woman living with HIV.

Fortunately, positive change may soon be on the way. Already made aware of the crisis, the Namibian government was found guilty by a Namibian court of violating the human rights of three pregnant women who are HIV-positive. The women, while seeking care at government hospitals, had unwittingly signed release forms which gave permission for doctors to sterilize them. The recent ruling is a step in the right direction: now that the problem has been identified, the next step is finding the right solution. Non-discriminatory healthcare must now be enforced so that women no longer need to fear being defiled by health professionals.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Dr. Kamwi,

Pregnant women living with HIV in Namibia are in danger of having their human rights violated by those that they should be able to trust. When seeking health services, these women find that once they reach the hospital a whole new set of troubles awaits them.

Reports and interviews have shown that HIV-positive women are often times coerced or forced into sterilization procedures without being informed about the possible effects, risks, and consequences. In a recent landmark HIV ruling, a court found that the Namibian government was in violation of human rights after three HIV-positive pregnant women were forced to undergo sterilization while they were giving birth.

Now the government must use the tools at its disposal to ensure the safety of pregnant women seeking aid from their hospitals. I urge you to push this new ruling to the next step: support and protect the rights of women living with HIV by providing equal rights and access to health services that are free of coercion.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

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