NGO mulls le­gal ac­tion against hos­pi­tals

ngo mulls le­gal ac­tion against hos­pi­tals

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pas­cali­nah kabi

ALOCAL hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion, Women and Law in South­ern Africa (WILSA) is mulling “strate­gic lit­i­ga­tion” on be­half of 470 Ba­sotho women liv­ing with HIV who claim they were forcibly ster­ilised in some govern­ment hos­pi­tals.

They plan to sue govern­ment hos­pi­tals in the dis­tricts of Leribe, Mokhot­long and Qacha’s Nek for al­legedly prac­tic­ing forced ster­il­i­sa­tion, fol­lows the re­lease of WILSA’s 2017 re­search re­port which found that more than 470 HIV Pos­i­tive women were il­le­gally ster­ilised.

WILSA re­search showed that al­though the women had gone to seek dif­fer­ent med­i­cal ser­vices at the hos­pi­tals, they ended up un­der­go­ing tubal-lig­a­tion and hys­terec­tomy with­out their knowl­edge.

How­ever, the move to sue the hos­pi­tals can only be un­der­taken if the al­leged vic­tims are pre­pared to speak out and agree to take le­gal ac­tion.

Tubal-lig­a­tion, which is also re­ferred to as tubec­tomy or ty­ing of the tubes, is a sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure for ster­il­i­sa­tion in which a woman’s fal­lop­ian tubes are clamped and blocked or sev­ered and sealed to pre­vent eggs from reach­ing the uterus for im­plan­ta­tion.

Hys­terec­tomy is the sur­gi­cal re­moval of the uterus. It may also in­volve re­moval of the cervix, ovaries, fal­lop­ian tubes and other sur­round­ing struc­tures. Usu­ally per­formed by a gy­ne­col­o­gist, hys­terec­tomy may be to­tal or par­tial.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, WILSA Le­gal Pro­grammes Of­fi­cer, Le­bo­hang Leeu said the af­fected women went to dif­fer­ent govern­ment hos­pi­tals to seek var­i­ous med­i­cal ser­vices but ended up get­ting ser­vices they had not re­quested.

Ad­vo­cate Leeu said the pro­gramme, which specif­i­cally tar­gets women of child-bear­ing age and liv­ing with HIV, was trig­gered by their dis­cus­sions with the Com­mu­nity of Women liv­ing with HIV and Aids who high­lighted mul­ti­ple hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

“We con­ducted the lat­est study in Leribe, Mokhot­long and Qacha’s Nek and we fi­nalised the re­port last month (De­cem­ber 2017). We are yet to re­lease the re­port, but I can tell you that more 470 women in these three dis­tricts have un­der­gone forced ster­il­i­sa­tion,” Adv Leeu said.

“We dis­cov­ered through in­ter­views that some of these women were seek­ing ser­vices in­clud­ing di­la­tion and curet­tage (D&C) or clean­ing of the womb, while oth­ers went to de­liver their ba­bies. It was dur­ing these pro­cesses that they were ster­ilised with­out their con­sent.

“We could tell that in some cases women signed con­sent forms to un­dergo cae­sarean sec­tion surgery and it was dur­ing that pro­ce­dure where tubal-lig­a­tion or hys­terec­tomy surg­eries were per­formed with­out their knowl­edge,” Adv Leeu said.

She said most of the vic­tims only came to know what had hap­pened after they were told by some doc­tors they could not con­ceive be­cause they were ster­il­ized.

Adv Leeu said among the vic­tims was a young woman who was ster­ilised at the age of 18, just after hav­ing her first child.

“Her hopes of hav­ing more chil­dren were dashed by one clin­i­cian who de­cided that her HIV sta­tus must de­ter­mine the num­ber of chil­dren she has. The clin­i­cian claimed that it was risky for her to have other chil­dren.

“We view this as pure evil and a se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of these women’s Sex­ual and Re­pro­duc­tive Rights. Ev­ery per­son has a right to a fam­ily, to have chil­dren and spac­ing and no one is sup­posed to make that de­ci­sion on their be­half.”

Adv Leeu said suing the hos­pi­tals would en­able them to ac­count for the loss and in­jus­tice suf­fered by the women.

Asked if there were any dis­cus­sions of the al­le­ga­tions with the par­tic­u­lar hos­pi­tals, Adv Leeu said no one from govern­ment was will­ing to dis­cuss the mat­ter de­spite count­less ef­forts to set-up meet­ings.

“Sur­pris­ingly, ster­il­i­sa­tion for HIV neg­a­tive women in Le­sotho is a long drawn out process where one is asked to sign some con­sent forms in ad­di­tion to bring­ing their spouses or guardians to sign the con­sent forms for the process to be un­der­taken and yet for HIV Pos­i­tive women, that is not the case,” Adv Leeu said.

Con­tacted for a com­ment, Sex­ual and Re­pro­duc­tive Health Man­ager for the Min­istry of Health, Mot­soanku ‘Me­fane dis­missed the WILSA find­ings as “another coun­try’s re­port and not of Le­sotho”.

She fur­ther stated that it was dif­fi­cult to com­ment on a study whose method­olo­gies were never com­mu­ni­cated to her min­istry.

“It is com­mon prac­tice that any­body who wants to un­der­take a study re­lated to health is­sues must con­sult the Min­istry of Health from the be­gin­ning and that we must see the ques­tions put for­ward to the peo­ple.

“Now we did not see the ques­tions and I am won­der­ing how the ques­tions were put for­ward know­ing that or­di­nary Ba­sotho women don’t re­ally un­der­stand what is ster­il­i­sa­tion. For them ster­il­i­sa­tion is one form of con­tra­cep­tive method not dif­fer­ent from tak­ing a pill, us­ing a loop or an in­jec­tion for ex­am­ple. Some do not know it is an ir­re­versible form of con­tra­cep­tive method. How­ever, the prac­tice in all govern­ment hos­pi­tals is that be­fore con­tra­cep­tive meth­ods are ad­min­is­tered to any­one, each and ev­ery con­tra­cep­tive method is ex­plained to these women, in­clud­ing women liv­ing with HIV,” Ms Me­fane said.

“WILSA got some fund­ing from some­where and de­cided to em­bark on this so-called study with­out en­gag­ing the Min­istry of Health. You can­not then ex­pect me to re­spond on that study where some­one took some herd boys, gave them ques­tions to ask the women and then claim that Ba­sotho women liv­ing with HIV were ster­ilised with­out their con­sent. No Mosotho woman liv­ing with HIV and AIDS has been ster­ilised with­out their con­sent. That is another coun­try’s study, not of Le­sotho,” she said.

Some of the govern­ment hos­pi­tals are likely to face le­gal ac­tion for al­legedly prac­tic­ing forced ster­il­i­sa­tion of pa­tients.

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