PRETORIA, 25 February 2020 – The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) welcomes with concern the report released by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) on the involuntary sterilization of HIV positive women in the country’s public health facilities.
Although the report was released yesterday, it should be noted that it is based on assessment conducted between 2002 and 2015. This however, does not, in any way negate the gross human rights violations suggested by the report and the failure to affirm the sexual and reproductive health rights of women in general.
SANAC recently launched South African Human Rights Plan on the sidelines of the South African AIDS Conference. The Plan supplements the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB & STIs (NSP). It was also informed by the Stigma Index findings and therefore aims to ensure that all patients reporting to public health facilities are treated fairly, with dignity and are given the freedom of choice. What the CGE report suggest is in direct contradiction of the principles of the Human Rights Plan.
South Africa has made extraordinary progress in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission (also known as vertical transmission) to an insignificant percentage in clinical terms. The country also boasts the largest antiretroviral therapy in the world. All these interventions mean that women infected with HIV are able to give birth to uninfected babies. The parents of these babies also enjoy a healthier life since ARVs enable them to live a longer, healthier life. Involuntary or coerced sterilization is therefore not only inhumane but it is also not informed by scientific facts – rendering it unnecessary.
We note the acknowledgement of the report by the Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and his subsequent promise that he will be engaging the CGE directly on the report. We have full confidence in the Minister’s ability to resolve this issue in all public health facilities (assuming the practice is still prevalent).
As SANAC, we will engage closely with all the relevant stakeholders in ensuring this practice is abolished and that all health workers are sensitized about affirming the rights of patients, especially women when reporting for care at public health facilities.