Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has blamed Covid-19 and outstanding information from the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) for the government’s failure to act against the alleged sterilisation of HIV-positive women in public hospitals.
Mkhize revealed on Monday that he met the commission the day after it published a shocking report on forced and coerced sterilisation of HIV-positive women.
“At that meeting we acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations levelled against the department of health, the relevant institutions and the health professionals [though not identified] implicated,” said Mkhize in a written reply to a parliamentary question.
“We re-emphasised the legal and ethical obligation of all health workers to obtain informed consent before rendering a service. At the same meeting, it was mutually agreed that the department would further consider the contents of the report while obtaining more information from the CGE to be able to gain full understanding of the issues that had been raised.”
The minister said the commission agreed to make all additional information available to the department for further consideration, including:
- information relating to the methodology of the research and investigation conducted;
- supporting documents cited in the report; and
- clarity on whether all the alleged forced sterilisations were performed on HIV-positive women, as this was unclear in the report and could not be clarified during the meeting of February 25.
Mkhize said having not received any further documentation from the CGE, on March 4 he followed up with the chair of the commission requesting the information — and she undertook to check with the commission’s management.
“It is worth noting that on March 5, we announced the first case of Covid-19 in the country and therefore events have been overtaken by this public health crisis. To date, we still keenly await the submission of these documents,” he said.
He said he wrote to the acting chair of the commission on August 18, indicating keenness to conclude the matter as soon as possible in the interest of those patients who have been affected and await answers.
The commission published its report on February 24. It found that HIV-positive women who lodged complaints that they were sterilised in public hospitals without their informed consent have had their rights to dignity, bodily integrity and freedom and security over their bodies violated.
The report followed a complaint lodged with the commission almost five years ago by the Women’s Legal Centre on behalf of Her Rights Initiative (HRI) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV.
The centre said after HRI’s research into the occurrence of coercive sterilisations in state hospitals in three South African provinces, it prepared a complaint on behalf of the two organisations and 48 women.
EFF MP Naledi Chirwa had asked Mkhize about the measures his department has taken to reconcile the injustices done against these women and in light of the recommendations in the CGE report.