19 April 2011

AFSA opposes paid sterilisation plans

The Aids Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) opposes the concept of paid for sterilisation of HIV-positive women in South Africa.


The Aids Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) opposes the concept of paid for sterilisation of HIV-positive women in South Africa.

"The rationale for this is supposedly to prevent pregnancies that may result in the ‘needless suffering of innocent children'," AFSA said.

It was reacting to a Health-e News Service report that the United States-based organisation Project Prevention, which targets alcoholics and drugs addicts for sterilisation, had its sights set on HIV-positive women in South Africa.

According to the report, the organisation offered alcoholics or drug addicts money to be sterilised or to take up long-term birth control like an intra-uterine device, and was considering doing the same in South Africa.

"This assumes that an HIV-positive woman will pass HIV to her baby, will give birth to a child that will be orphaned or cannot be loved and cared for, and is somehow a guilty party, deserving punishment," AFSA said.

Medical interventions

It found the approach misguided and said there were currently medical interventions which made it possible for HIV-positive women to have HIV-negative babies, such as antiretrovirals (ARVs).

"Women, or men, who do not want to have children at all or at a certain time, should have access to safe long-term contraception or fully-informed, voluntary sterilisation," AFSA said.

"However, in a context of widespread poverty and inadequate sexual and reproductive health services, offering payment to ‘choose' this route may easily amount to bribery and coercion."

In response to e-mailed questions, Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris said the organisation would work in South Africa only if it received funding, and that it would not pay HIV-positive women in South Africa to be sterilised.

"We have been contacted by many SA residents that learned about our work pleading with us to come there. They tell us the problem of addicts having babies in SA is huge," she wrote.

The organisation was paying HIV-positive women in Kenya to be sterilised because of contact with a college student there.

He learned about the organisation's work and contacted Harris. He asked her to expand the offer to HIV-positive women and sent her "overwhelming" statistics which convinced her to pay the women.

Right to procreate

"I believe that, as important as the right of a woman to procreate should be, [so is] the right of her child to be born drug-free, HIV-free, to a mother who can care for him, not to be an orphan, and to be loved.

"No-one should have the right to destroy the life of another human being."

Afsa felt that organisations genuinely concerned about children's health and welfare should rather support initiatives to ensure quality antenatal services and universal access to prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/Aids and ARVs for all who needed them.

It called on the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter and resist any attempt by Project Prevention to operate a sterilisation campaign in South Africa.

According to Project Prevention's website, its main concern was for the welfare of children born to alcoholics and addicts.

It wanted to prevent the unborn child from being exposed to alcohol and drugs, and to "reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers, trim down social worker caseloads, and alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away".

Its website provides information on babies born with foetal alcohol syndrome or a drug-related condition, who are subjected to erratic or abusive parenting, or have to be placed in foster care as a result of their mother's addiction.

"No-one has been sterilised who hasn't already had children," it stated on the website.

(Sapa, April 2011)

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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