HIV violations horror report
A new study on human rights violations has revealed horrific cases of rape and abuse of women and children living with HIV/Aids by their own families and healthcare workers.
Rapes, beatings, stabbings and even murder were the most commonly experienced forms of abuse.
HIV-positive women who participated in the qualitative study, conducted in the OR Tambo District, revealed how family members were labelling those living with the virus, calling them “useless”, “careless”, “stupid”, “nobodies” and “prostitutes” who got what they deserved.
In 57% of the cases, the study found that family members were the main culprits while about 10% of the abuse occurred in healthcare institutions.
Some of the case studies include:
•A young man who raped an HIV-positive woman 'because he wanted to know what it felt like to have Aids';
• An HIV-positive father who raped his daughter because he wanted them to die together;
• In two instances, fathers raped their virgin daughters to be “cured” of their HIV status;
•One father was quoted saying: “I cannot plant a cabbage and then let somebody else harvest it”. And so he raped his daughter;
•A stepfather raped and impregnated his daughter saying it was better if he gave her the virus rather than the “dogs out there”;
•Women with HIV/Aids have been locked in shacks by families who fear they will shame the family as well as to prevent further transmission;
•A nurse turned away an HIV-positive mother and a child who needed treatment, telling her the child would die in three days anyway;
•A woman was refused anti-retroviral medication by a nurse, telling her to go home and await death; and
•A patient with Aids was slapped by a nurse for wetting her bed.
The study was conducted by the Eastern Cape Aids Council and National Association of People Living With Aids (Napwa) in four local municipalities: King Sabatha Dalindyebo, Nyandeni, Ngquza and Mhlontlo, with 174 respondents from both genders. The study was conducted in late 2011.
Nontsikelelo Gcwabe, provincial co-ordinator for Napwa, attributed this violation of human rights to blatant ignorance.
“Females are extremely vulnerable within this culture as it enforces traditions that do not give women the right to make their own decisions, and this opens up women to exploitation,” she said.
OR Tambo has high levels of illiteracy and unemployment, and it was chosen for the study in November last year mostly because it has the second-highest HIV prevalence rate by loss of life in the Eastern Cape at 14%, with Cacadu District being the highest.
Gcwabe added that stigma, discrimination and denial have been identified as the number one social driver of the HIV epidemic in the district as well as the province.
Over the past few years there have been high-profile cases of HIV-related human rights violations in the area.
One such case was the publicised incident of Nokuzola Mfiki, who killed herself and her four young children in 2010 because of unbearable stigmatisation by her community.
Dr Siva Pillay, superintendent-general for the Eastern Cape Department of Health, said they were aware of the study and they had a few problems with the manner in which it was conducted and its findings.
He did not specify what exactly were the problems, but added that the issue of HIV/Aids and stigma was more than a health problem – it was a serious social issue that needed to be tackled by every social institution.
“The responsibility must fall on everybody, from parents to civil organisations and schools, to ensure that HIV/Aids is taken seriously as a pandemic that is eating away at our society,” he said.
Vuyisa Dayile, programme manager for the EC Aids Council, said they received the findings with great concern and plans were already under way for a six-month campaign against stigmatisation and human rights violations to target social institutions in the district as well as the province.
“We are working in partnership with the private sector, the South African Council of Churches, chiefs, the youth and schools to ensure that we all carry a unified message against such violation,” said Dayile.
Chairperson of the EC Aids Council Helen Sauls-August called on all influential members of the community with access to public forums, including politicians, to always speak out against such gross violations.
She added that the council was pushing to ensure that the Labour Relations Act makes it mandatory for every company to have HIV policies.
“Casual talks and jokes about people’s loss of weight or constant illnesses have resulted in people resigning from jobs and alienating themselves from society for fear of judgement and victimisation. We cannot have a situation like this,” said Sauls-August.
Dayile added that there was a clear need to revisit the basic education on HIV/Aids in the province.
The first leg of the stigma and human rights campaign will target the identified main drivers of HIV/Aids infections: stigma, substance abuse, sexual lifestyles, commercial sex and mobility as well as ensuring that justice is carried out.