Shock over forced sterilisation of HIV positive women

Three years ago, 28-year-old Jones Imbwaga’s dream of motherhood was shattered. She says she was sterilised without informed consent at a Kakamega hospital, owing to her HIV positive status.

“The nurses told me women of my status should not give birth,” says Imbwaga, who was 25 years old then.

She says she was forced to sign documents and when her husband got a glimpse of them, he kicked her out.

“Most of us are denied medical services, lured through incentives such as milk for the new-born or free vouchers for free caesarean delivery to agree to undergo the procedure,” says Imbwaga.

Report titled Robbed of Choice:Coerced and Forced Sterilisation of women with HIV in Kenya, claims  health workers are forcing women living with HIV to undergo contraceptive sterilisation. It was released by African Gender and Media Initiative.

“While countrywide prevalence rates of non-consensual sterilisation of HIV positive women in Kenya are unknown, this study confirms violation is happening,” reads part of the report. Research shows they were not given other options for family planning and had tubal ligation done, which is a permanent family planning method.

Reported health complications caused by post-tubal ligation included severe abdominal and back pains, inability to control urine and heavy menstrual flows or none at all.

Not emergency

“Forced and coerced sterilisation seems to be happening. This procedure is considered 99.9 per cent permanent method of family planning. This is not an emergency procedure, it is what I call an elective procedure,” said Kenya Obstetrics and Gynaecologists Society Vice Chairperson Anne Kihara. Dr Kihara said any woman should be free and well informed to choose when to have their babies, whom to have them with and when to deliver.

Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Networks on HIV and Aids official Allan Maleche said they would file cases before the constitutional courts to seek declaration that what happened in the health facilities amounts to human rights violation.

He said the organisation would also seek for declarations and directions from courts to have Government officials involved and circulars issued by Minister for Medical Services Anyang’ Nyong’o on the matter.

“The minister needs to confirm it is not Government policy to forcefully sterilise HIV positive women,” said Maleche.

The report was unveiled yesterday at a workshop in Nairobi where National Gender and Equality Commission chairperson Winifred Lichoma expressed disbelief over the practice.

“There had been rumours about it in Kenya but being here and listening to these testimonies has proved it. This is a crime that should be punished,” said Lichoma.

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