Legal activists have hailed the “landmark” judgment by Namibia’s High Court yesterday that the Namibian government had coercively sterilised three HIV-positive women in violation of their basic rights.

“This decision is a significant victory for HIV-positive women in Namibia,” said Nicole Fritz, executive director of the Joburg-based Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which helped the three women bring the case to court.

“This ruling affirms not only the rights of HIV-positive women but also of all women to access their sexual and reproductive rights.”

The case, HN and Others vs Government of the Republic of Namibia, involved three HIV-positive women who sought to access prenatal services at public hospitals in Namibia, SALC said.

The three women ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-40s when they were sterilised. All three were sterilised without their informed consent while accessing such services.

Ruling in the women’s favour, the court held that obtaining consent from women when they were in severe pain or in labour did not constitute informed consent, SALC said.

“The court further found that failure to obtain the three women’s informed consent violated the women’s rights under common law. The women will be awarded damages, although the amount is still to be decided.

“These three cases represent only the tip of the iceberg because numerous HIV-positive women have come forward alleging they were similarly subjected to coerced sterilisation at public hospitals in Namibia,” said Fritz.

“This decision is the first step in ensuring that no other women will be coercively sterilised in public hospitals in Namibia,” said SALC deputy director Priti Patel. - The Star