18 September 2012

Kenya: Sterilization in HIV Is Unacceptable, Faith Leaders

Nairobi — Forced contraceptive sterilization of women living with HIV which occurred recently in the country, according to reports, is an unacceptable infringement on the woman's rights which hurts the gains in the efforts to turn the tide against the epidemic, senior Kenyan faith leaders are warning.

The leaders speaking through the Kenya Network for Religious Leaders living with or affected by HIV and AIDS (KENERELA+) say forced permanent sterilization in form of bilateral Tubal Ligation is illegal, deplorable and a "mis-action", since it furthers stigma, one of the greatest impediment in anti-HIV efforts. Those responsible must be called to account, demands the faith leaders.

"It is a pity that at a time when there is great scientific advancement in human reproduction, someone can go ahead and sterilizes a woman because she is HIV positive," says Retired Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya.

"With the understanding that Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) can now give birth to children who are free of the virus, any attempt to bar a woman from having children through forced sterilization amounts to violation of their rights," adds Nzimbi.

Kenya's new constitution endorsed in August 2010 forbids forced contraceptive sterilization, notes the faith leaders. In the Bill of Rights, it explicitly assures Kenyans of the right to Reproductive health. Article 43 (1a, b) states: "Every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care ...."

"This is dehumanizing and a violation of the women's 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," says Bishop Patrick Mungai of the Gospel Evangelistic Churches of Kenya (GECK).

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 say.

"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," says Sheikh Abdullatif Abdulkarim the Coordinator of the Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa (KCIU).

Abdulkarim says discrimination for any reason including being HIV positive so as to take away their God given right of conceiving and bearing children is 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 says.

Professor Mohammed Karama, an epidemiologist at KEMRI and Board Member of KENERELA+ observes that Child birth is a right for every human being and should be supported by all for procreation and continuity of the human race.

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