Hospital Sit-In Attracts Nurses’ Attention

A group of women who protested at the Katutura State Hospital Antenatal Clinic this morning were caught off-guard when they received support from nurses working at the clinic.

The protesters, who came to demonstrate against the alleged sterilization of HIV positive women in state hospitals, were surprised by the cooperation of the nurses at the clinic who listened to the message of patient’s rights and accepted piles of leaflets to distribute to patients.

The couple dozen women, who were demonstrating in solidarity with three women who were bringing their court case to the High Court of Namibia, also distributed information on the right to health to various patients seeking services at the Antenatal Clinic.

The women’s action was in solidarity with the ongoing court cases at the High Court of Namibia. At the court, three women have sued government for alleged forced or coercive sterilization without their consent.

The Katutura State Hospital sit-in also attracted a number of onlookers. A man in his late thirties whose wife just delivered a baby said that, “this is very wrong, it is a violation against women’ rights and it’s a shame to the nation.”

Some of the women who were demonstrated were interviewed.

Nangula Sheetekela Petrus a group leader of “Together we can make it” support group expressed her concerned.

“We are here at the antenatal clinic because we want the nurses to know that what they did is wrong (the alleged forced sterilisation of HIV women) and this should come to an end.” She also stated that, “the nurses should explain to the people in their mother tongue what sterilisation is. Then the women can understand before the operation is done.”

“There is lack of communication between the health workers and patients which need to be improved,” said Mrs. Petrus.

Another support group leader Stella !Gontes from Tobias Ijogo of Okahandja Park said that there is no communication in the hospitals and the people don’t really understand what sterilization is.

The group leader Veronica Kalambi said that she was happy with the campaign and protest. However Miss Kalambi said that, “we are here because it is at the antenatal where everything starts and right information needs to be communicated.”

Miss Kalambi said she was impressed that the nurses working at the came out, acknowledged the protesters’ presence, and that the nurses said that they have heard the message and will pass it on.

- article contributed by Eunice Mbewe, media studies student, University of Namibia. photo by Mark Nonkes

Live from the Courtroom. Day 2

Windhoek High Court, 02 June

09h30 - Court room is full with supporters. Defense for state is currently cross-examining the patient. Questioning why the patient had time to sign the consent form but didn’t have time to ask what was on the form. Suggested patient had personal responsibility to ask about a life-changing operation.

10h42 - “You are a reasonably intelligent woman capable of asking a question without being invited to ask a question… It is your life that is being changed and you have the responsibility to ask.”

11h02 – Patient claims she received family planning counseling at ante-natal clinic but was not informed about sterilization – that she did not know what sterilisation was before the surgery. The defense claims that nurses will testify that all HIV patients are informed in group therapy about sterilisation as an option for family planning.

11h37 - Cross examination over. The persecutor is now asking more questions.

11h50 - Patient’s lawyer asked her to re-read the consent form and identify if the work uterus appears on the form. She reported there was no mention about “removing uterus or womb” on the form. The nurse at the time allegedly explained that the patient’s uterus would be removed b/c all HIV+ women have that surgery. She did not refer to it as sterilisation, which it was referred to as on the consent form. The patient reports she did not learn the meaning of the word sterilisation until after the surgery.

12h01 - First witness (patient) has been dismissed from the witness stand. The next witness has been sworn in.

12h22 – Second plaintiff reports that she had a breached pregnancy (explained to her by a Doctor at clinic). It was then explained that she would need a caesarian section. The woman alleges the doctor told her that during the C-section they would sterilize her, that she would be unable to have more children, and that she should agree to the procedure.  The plaintiff alleges that Doctor at Katatura State Hospital told her this in English. The plaintiff is testifying in Oshiwambo.

12h27 – Plaintiff alleges the Doctor did not ask her if she wanted more children, she did not receive any counseling about sterilisation, and did not explain the consequences of the surgery. She alleges he did not ask her if she wanted the surgery, but that he “only told me I was going to be sterilised.”

12h46 – The plaintiff reports that the Doctor first told her about the sterilisation on the 6th of Dec. She was admitted on the 8th because of contractions and delivered just after midnight on the morning of the 9th. The plaintiff alleges she was presented with the consent forms just before she went for C-section. When she asked what the papers were for, she alleges the nurse said: “The doctor has already explained what the forms mean… Take these papers and sign so I can give you the drip and take you to the theatre.”

14h45 – Court reconvenes after lunch.

Plaintiff was asked to sign two forms – one for C-section and one for BTL. The consent form for BTL says nature of procedure was explained, but plaintiff alleges the procedure was not explained. She was not told there was an option to not sign. At the times she was asked to sign the forms she reported that she was in severe labor pains. “I did not want to be sterilized. If I had I could have asked for myself.”

14h50 – In the 3+ days she was in the hospital after her C-section, plaintiff claims no one spoke with her about the steril. One of the drs told her that she had a “deep operation” and that was the cause of abdomen and back pain. Plaintiff alleges that it was not until 6 weeks later that she learned of the sterilisation, when she went to doctor to get contraceptives and she was told she did not need contraceptives because she had been sterilised.

15h04 – The plaintiff did not tell her family what happened because they were not aware of her HIVpositive status and she felt that she could not tell them about her sterilisation without telling them about her status.

The plaintiff reported that if she still had the choice she would want to have more children. She now understands that she cannot have more children and she feels bad about it.

15h29 – The plaintiff’s lawyer explained that the defense claims that sterilization was recommended in part because she had a hemmorage problem during her last pregnancy. The plaintiff claims that the dr told her she would need to be steril because she had already had one C-section and because she was HIV+. The plaintif claims this conversation occurred on Dec 6, and that sterilization was not mentioned on the day/evening that she gave birth (Dec 8-9).

Plaintiff alleges the risks were not explained to her on the 6th, and that she still does not understand the risks of the procedure.

16h00 - Court recesses as cross examination begins.

- contributed by Andrea Flynn, an intern at Women’s Health Network

Petition Presented to Ministry

The petition was handed over yesterday to the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services following a protest in solidarity with the women who are currently in court on 01 June 2010.

In total, more than 1,100 people signed the petition calling for an immediate end to the sterilisation of HIV positive women without their informed consent.

In the photo above, Rosa Namises of the End Forced Sterilisation Coalition presents the petition to a representative from the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

photo by: Henry Luyombya, a University of Toronto student currently interning at Namibia Women’s Health Network

Sterilisation cases spark international action

For Immediate Release
01 June 2010

As the alleged forced sterilisation cases begin this morning, people across the world have taken to the streets in solidarity with three HIV positive women who are claiming compensation in a case that will set international precedent.

The case, currently underway at the High Court of Namibia, is alleging the women were sterilised without their informed consent while trying to access medical services at state hospitals in Namibia. They are each suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for the alleged violation of their right to dignity, to non-discrimination and to found a family.

“The three women are alleging that they were sterilised without their informed consent. They are further alleging that they were discriminated because they are women living with HIV. The government is denying that the women were sterilised without their informed consent and is alleging that women requested for and gave written consent for the sterilisations. The women are claiming damages for alleged sterilisation and discrimination,” explains Linda Dumba-Chicalu, a member of the legal team at the Legal Assistance Centre.

Demonstrations of support for the women have been launched at Namibian Embassies in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.; Pretoria, South Africa and Lusaka, Zambia.

“OSISA and ICWGlobal are organizing a rally at the Namibian Embassy in Washington in solidarity with HIV positive women in Namibia and around the world who have had there reproductive rights violently violated by healthcare providers,” says Beri Hull, of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C.

In Namibia, planned events of support for the three women included a mass march in Windhoek and hospital sit-ins in Ondangwa and Windhoek.

“HIV positive women are holding the health care system accountable for the wrongs done to them,” says Veronica Kalambi of the Women’s Health Network. “These violations of women’s rights are in the context of a broader set of violations occurring against women at hospitals and clinics.”

“People should have peace of mind that if you have HIV, you can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality,” says Vicky Noa, who alleges she was sterilised in 2001 and organized a sit-in at an Ondangwa hospital in solidarity with the three women.

“If we are scared we might be sterilised we will not use the hospital services as much. We do not want to be denied the right to motherhood,” Noa said.

Additionally, a petition signed by more than 1,000 people – both from Namibia and around the world – was handed over to the Ministry of Health and Social Services this morning. The petition demands that, amongst other things, the Ministry of Health and Social Services issue a circular to both the public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting the practice of sterilisation without informed consent.

Further events are planned throughout the rest of the court case, which is scheduled to be heard in court until 4 June 2010. A hospital sit-in at the Katutura State Hospital is planned to kick off in the maternity ward tomorrow morning, June 2 until June 4. Hospital sit-ins will continue at Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital until 4 June.

Available for interview are:

Amon Ngavetene
Coordinator, AIDS Law Unit
Legal Assistance Centre
Windhoek, Namibia

Veronica Kalambi
Project Officer
Women’s Health Network
Windhoek, Namibia

Victoria Noa
Women’s Health Network
Ondangwa, Namibia

Rosa Namises
Director
Women’s Solidarity Network
Windhoek, Namibia

Interviews can be arranged in person or telephonically by contacting:
Mark Nonkes
Communication Officer
Legal Assistance Centre
Email

Upcoming Cases Drawing Media Attention

A series of articles have hit the Namibian papers regarding the alleged sterilisation of women living with HIV. Here are a select few:

World Attention Falls on Nam Sterilisation Case
28 May 2010 – The Namibian
All eyes will be on Namibia next week when the case of HIV-positive women, allegedly sterilised in State hospitals without their consent, goes to court.

Sterilised Woman Speaks Out
28  May 2010 – The Namibian
“I LOST the right of becoming a mother…”
So said Vicky Noa, a woman who was allegedly sterilised without her consent in a State hospital nine years ago, in an interview with The Namibian on Wednesday. According to the 30-year-old Noa, who hails from northern Namibia, she was based in Windhoek at the time of the alleged incident.

Women Want Forced Sterilisation Busted
21 May 2010 – New Era
Women’s and HIV/AIDS organisations in the southern African region plan solidarity marches and petitions in support of HIV-positive women, who were (allegedly) subjected to sterilisation without informed consent.

Hundreds Planning Solidarity Action

Press Release
28 May 2010
For Immediate Release

Hundreds of men and women from across southern Africa are planning to take part in solidarity events as three women who were allegedly sterilised without their informed consent take their cases to the High Court of Namibia from 1 to 4 June 2010. The women, who are all living with HIV/AIDS, are each suing the Ministry of Health and Social Services for 1 million dollars as compensation for the damages they have suffered.

“Namibia has an extremely high HIV prevalence, fuelled by stigma against people living with HIV. These cases illustrate that women living with HIV are highly vulnerable to human rights violations,” said Rosa Namises, Director of Women’s Solidarity Namibia.

Hundreds of people who consider coerced and forced sterilisation a distinct violation of rights will participate in a series of solidarity events that will coincide with the court proceedings. Hospital sit-ins at Katutura State Hospital in Windhoek (where some of the alleged cases of sterilisation took place) and at the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital in Ondangwa are planned throughout the court case. A mass march and petition hand-over to the Ministry of Health is planned on the first day of the case – 01 June 2010. Additional demonstrations of solidarity are expected to take place in Zambia, South Africa, the U.K and America.

“The law states that we should all be treated equally” says Veronica Kalambi of the Namibia Women’s Health Network. “That means that people living with HIV should have the same rights as everyone else – including the right to found a family.”

Reports of sterilisation of HIV positive women first emerged in 2007, claiming that women living with HIV seeking medical care in state hospitals were allegedly subjected to sterilisation without their knowledge or informed consent. The three cases are the first of 15 that will be heard on these merits, says Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Linda Dumba-Chicalu.

“Sterilisation of women living with HIV without their consent also has serious implications for the health care system as a whole,” explains Amon Ngavetene, coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre. “Fear of discrimination and mistreatment can discourage women from seeking health care services and can undermine the government’s gains in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and the HIV response as a whole.”

Partners working on the campaign to end forced sterilisation include: Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia Women’s Health Network, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Women’s Solidarity Namibia, Women’s Leadership Centre, Sister Namibia, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

“VIVA FOR LIFE”

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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