Forced sterilisation: Doctors face probe

Doctors in government and public hospitals are being investigated after a study claimed that they are sterilising women with HIV without their knowledge.

Others are forcing them to undergo tubal ligation in exchange for antiretroviral treatment, according to the survey.

The study by the African Gender and Media Initiative (AGMI) reports the cases of 40 women who claim to have been sterilised without their permission.

Director of Public Health Shariff Shahnaz said the ministry was aware of the allegations and wanted the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board to launch investigations.

“These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,” he said.

Hospitals found to have taken part in it will face disciplinary action irrespective of whether they are the public or private sector, he added.

The damning revelations have outraged human and civil rights activists who are threatening to go to court if action is not taken immediately.

Among the organisations which have condemned illegal sterilisation are the National Gender and Equality Commission and Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Networks on HIV.

Forced sterilisation is a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute and perpetrators are prosecuted under the International Criminal Court provisions.

Dr Samuel Torerei, acting chairman of KNCHR, said although he was yet to read the study done by AGMI, their 2011 Reproductive Health Inquiry Report had also come up with similar allegations.

“We are going to get the study by AGMI to establish the veracity of the complaints and contact the victims to ask them if they want to make an official complaint with us and assist them to seek legal redress,” he said.

Dr Torerei said the law was clear that before any medical procedure is taken on a patient, their consent must be given.

“Alternatively medical practitioners have to look for proxy consent from patients’ guardians,” he said.

National Gender and Equality Commission chairperson Winfred Lichuma said they would ensure the affected women got access to their medical records to help them in their cases.

The AGMI study profiles 40 women who claim to have been sterilised in various hospitals, private and public, and now have to live with a seemingly irreversible status for the rest of their lives.

The affected women are from Nairobi, Kakamega, Meru, Kandara, Tigania and Kisumu. (READ: Doctors carved out my uterus)

The NGO’s report, Robbed of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilisation Experiences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya, captures grim experiences the women went through when they went to give birth but instead went home with their reproductive organs tampered with by the same doctors who helped them give birth.

“Forced or coerced sterilisation of women living with HIV is an infringement of their reproductive rights and dignity as well as social injustice that must be abhorred,” said Dr Anne-Beatrice Kihara, University of Nairobi lecturer and Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society vice-chairperson.

However, she noted that sterilisation was not altogether illegal as women can request or give permission for such a procedure.

“Voluntary sterilisation procedures are an important part of a full range of contraceptive options that should be available to all women including those with the virus.

“Properly performed surgical sterilisation procedures should not lead to negative health consequences such as reported in some of the narratives in this report,” said Dr Kihara.

The women are victims of two forms of sterilisation: Coerced sterilisation where they were induced by use of money or other incentives, misinformed or denied medical services to coerce them to give their consent and forced sterilisation where victims were sterilised without their knowledge or an opportunity to provide consent.

According to AGMI executive director Faith Kisava, some of the women were coerced into agreeing to undergo the procedure by being promised antiretroviral drugs. “Most of these doctors and nurses are the ones administering ARVs.

So they would easily convince the women. Some even threaten to withhold their ARV packages if they did not give consent to sterilisation,” Ms Kisava said, adding that most of the affected women were between 25 and 30 years, the prime reproduction age.

The women are preparing to go to court, according to the NGO. “We are going to facilitate court cases. Many of the women are asking us if they can have the procedure reversed. If not they will ask for compensation,” said Ms Kisava.

She said the women suffer from other post-sterilisation complications which include the inability to have monthly menstrual cycles that has led break up of their marriages.

“Most of those affected continue to live in pain in silence, fearing to talk about the agony they are going through as a result of stigmatisation,” she said.

Kenyatta National Hospital, which is among the institutions mentioned in the report, denied any of its doctors has sterilised Aids patients without their consent. The complaints by the women are not genuine and the records are available, the hospital said.

“We have seen the report. We wholly disagree with it. We have been exonerated as we do not have records showing that the women were admitted here,” said KNH’s public relations officer Simon Ithai.

Mr Ithai said the women had not been able to prove they were admitted to the hospital.

 

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