(NaturalNews) Three Namibian women have filed a lawsuit against the country's government, claiming they were sterilized at state-run hospitals without their informed consent after being diagnosed with HIV.
"HIV-positive women are holding the health system accountable for the wrongs done to them," said Veronica Kalambi of the Women's Health Network.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Legal Assistance Center, which says it has collected evidence of 15 such forced sterilizations since 2008. The three women are seeking one million Namibian dollars (U.S. $130,000) in damages.
"We want a health system based on human rights which promotes equality for all," said Amon Ngavetene of the Legal Assistance Center.
According to Ngavetene, women in Namibia who are diagnosed with HIV are often urged by their doctors to undergo sterilization operations. The women are not always given a clear explanation of the risks and consequences of the procedure, nor of the alternatives available (such as drugs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus. In addition, doctors do not always take into account pre-existing conditions that might make the sterilization more dangerous.
All these problems are exacerbated by communication barriers in a country with 11 indigenous languages.
Hundreds of people marched in support of the women in the Namibian capital of Windhoek, as well as in South Africa, Zambia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Supporters also held sit-ins at two of the hospitals accused of performing the procedures.
According to protest organizer Vicky Noa, women deserve "peace of mind that if you have HIV you can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality."
"If we were scared that we might be sterilized, we will not use the hospital services as much," she said. "We do not want to be denied the right to motherhood."
According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS, one in five Namibians, or 200,000 people, have been diagnosed as HIV positive.