WINDHOEK - Supporters of three HIV-positive women in Namibia who say they were sterilised without their consent held protests to support the women's decision to sue the government, a legal aid group said yesterday.
The Legal Assistance Centre said protesters began staging sit-ins at two state hospitals in the country yesterday.
The three women allege they were sterilised without their consent, and that the sterilisation violated their rights to have children and not to be discriminated against.
The women are seeking damages at a high court hearing scheduled for tomorrow.
Protest organisers said the sit-ins would continue until after the hearing, the first legal challenge of its kind in Namibia.
The government maintains the women gave their consent and says it will fight the damages claim.
One protest organiser, Vicky Noa, said the sit-in was about women's demand for fair medical treatment.
She said there should be "peace of mind that if you have HIV you can still go to the hospital and be treated with dignity and equality"..
"If we were scared that we might be sterilised we would not use the hospital services as much.
"We do not want to be denied the right to motherhood."
Mark Nonkes, a spokesperson for the legal support group, said about 40 people gathered at Katutura Hospital in the capital Windhoek early yesterday, waving placards and handing out pamphlets.
At a second facility north of Windhoek, patients and their visitors supported the protest there.
UNAids estimates there are about 200000 people living with HIV in Namibia, about one fifth of the population in one of the world's most sparsely populated countries.
Veronica Kalambi, an official of the Women's Health Network, said women's rights were often violated in state health institutions.
"HIV-positive women are holding the health system accountable for the wrongs done to them," she said.
Sterilisation is a drastic tactic to treat HIV-positive women, as mother-to-child transmission of HIV-Aids can be prevented with medication. - Sapa-AP