The forced sterilization of women living with HIV is an abuse of rights, faith-based HIV campaigners have said.
The Kenya Network for Religious Leaders living with or affected by HIV and Aids said forced permanent sterilisation in form of bilateral Tubal Ligation is illegal, deplorable and a "mis-action" because it increases stigma, one of the greatest impediments in anti-HIV efforts.
"It is a pity that at a time when there is great scientific advancement in human reproduction, someone can sterilise a woman because she is HIV positive," said retired Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. He called for action against those involved in the sterilisation of the women living with HIV.
"With the understanding that Persons Living with HIV can now give birth to children who are free of the virus, any attempt to bar a woman from having children through forced sterilisation amounts to violation of their rights," he added. The leaders noted that the constitution forced contraceptive sterilization and that forced sterlisation was not only a violation to right to reproductive health but also contravenes international charters on reproduction.
"This is dehumanizing and a violation of the womens' rights. Every human being has a right to bring up a family irrespective of their statuses. Therefore any attempt to secretly or forcefully sterilize a person is illegal and ungodly," Bishop Patrick Mungai of the Gospel Evangelistic Churches of Kenya (GECK) said.
The HIV positive women, majority from poor rural villages and urban settlements have been coerced to accepting the procedure by health workers. It is sad that some of the operations were carried out mainly during emergency cesarean operations, the leaders note.
It is further disheartening that reports say consent for the operations were required as a pre-condition for free or reduced price of medical treatment or food and medical aid for their children, especially milk and anti-retroviral medication, the leaders said. We also raised concerns that there were reports that the women were told by doctors that many had too many children, a good reason for permanent and irreversible sterilization.
Others were also misinformed about family planning choices by health care providers, says the leaders. "We the Muslim clerics condemn in the highest manner the way these mothers' rights have been infringed without even them being involved in the decision making process," said Sheikh Abdullatif Abdulkarim the Coordinator of the Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa (KCIU)
He discrimination for any reason including being HIV positive so as to take away their God given right of conceiving and bearing children was unacceptable. "There are so many options including performing caesarian operation for HIV positive mothers, such that they can bear HIV negative children with minimum health hazards," he said.
Professor Mohammed Karama, an epidemiologist at KEMRI and Board Member of KENERELA+ observed that child birth is a right for every human being and should be supported by all for procreation and continuity of the human race. "According to the medical ethics, sterilization can only be effected through consent from an informed person. It is in the interest of practitioners to educate women living with HIV to a level of balancing risks posed by their status so that they can make informed choices on whether to give birth or not," Karama said.