A lively debate nearly brought down the roof at University of Namibia gym hall on Monday.
More than 100 students attended the hour-long session as six of Namibia’s top debaters discussed the issue of reproductive health and the motion that “that individuals with a terminal disease, in particular HIV, should be denied the right to reproduce”.
The event was officially opened by the Deputy director of Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ms Hilma Awala who told the audience that “the health of our people is in good hands” because the issues of reproduction health is discussed by the youth. “All women and men have the right to decide how many children they want to have,” Awala said. Awala admitted the ministry is facing challenges in maternal and newborn health but they have set a vision for themselves that is reducing the levels of mortality by 75% by the year 2015.
Used as a test to gage public opinion surrounding the issues in the upcoming sterilisation cases, the University of Namibia’s debaters presented compelling arguments that drew dramatic audience response.
Arguing all human rights were for everyone, Magongo Iipinge said humans as having the right to liberty and life. “The fundamental human rights, that is what we are fighting for,” Iipinge said. Iipinge said telling women not to conceive is denying them the right to reproduction and, who knows, the babies could be the next great scientist or the next Obama. Iipinge said in life the greater good is advancement of human life and it is only through reproduction that we can advance human life. The ARV’s are there to prolong life. “Viva for life,” he said an applauding audience.
Yet, arguments from the pro-sterilisation side were strong. Claudia Boamah opened the debate by saying, that the government should come up with a policy to combat the situation as people are causing a problem to themselves. Boamah said the government have a responsibility to draw up a policy that enforces the compulsory testing for pregnant women. Boamah suggested if the women do not request, they will be forcefully tested and asked not to reproduce. Boamah said, “the rate of people getting HIV is becoming ridiculous, though the government is providing contraceptives freely.” Boamah argued that women who are infected should be fined if they have children.
Speaker Magdelina Wakolele said that sterilisation takes away the fundamental rights of individuals. Wakolele said HIV is combated by the use of ARV’s and the statistics show that it has decreased from 22% to 17.8% so there is no need for taking the drastic and inhumane major of denying women to conceive.
Arguing for sterilisation, John Haufiku said that a “little evil” is needed and also quoted Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “sometimes you will wish you had done a little evil.” Haufiku argued that sometimes the stigma and discrimination should be forfeited for the greater good. “Prolonging life of an infected baby with ARV’s does not make any good sense because at the end of the day they contribute zero to the country,” Haufiku said. Initiating the policy would be killing three birds with one stone that is reducing the orphans, reducing orphans with HIV/AIDS and investing and building a future of people who are free from HIV/AIDS.
Another speaker fighting against the idea of sterilisation, Wesele Chikwilila, reminded the people that ARV’s are providing a better chance in fighting the disease so the women should be allowed to conceive and their babies will have the opportunity to study and to contribute to the country’s economy.
Yet pro-sterilisation debater Albert Titus was convinced and concluded when he said, that those people who live recklessly shall bear the consequences of their lifestyle and that inequality a person will face will be limited to them jeopardising the right of another person.
In the end, the judges declared the pro-sterilisation side the winners of the debate as they had stronger points and presented more refined arguments.
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