Hospital staff were 'hostile' towards those investigating forced sterilisation

Tambo Memorial Hospital was named in the GDE report as one of the Gauteng hospitals in which complainants were sterilised without their consent.
Tambo Memorial Hospital was named in the GDE report as one of the Gauteng hospitals in which complainants were sterilised without their consent.
Image: stayathommum via Google photo

Commission for Gender Equality officials who were investigating claims about the forced sterilisation of 48 HIV-positive women at public hospitals experienced hostile reception from staff during hospital visits.

In most cases, the commission said, staff were not co-operative.

The commission made the remarks in its investigation report about the forced sterilisation of women living with HIV/Aids in South Africa, which it released to the public in Johannesburg on Monday.

The commission found the complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge about the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent.

The commission investigated complaints submitted in 2015 by two organisations on behalf of 48 HIV-positive women whose cases of forced or coerced sterilisation were documented. One of the complaints dates back to 2002.

In investigating the complaint, the commission obtained 14 affidavits from the women to further verify their allegations.

The commission visited five hospitals in Gauteng and 10 in KwaZulu-Natal, where most of the complainants were sterilised without their consent.

The hospitals in Gauteng are Tambo Memorial Hospital, Tembisa Hospital, Far East Rand Hospital, Edenvale Hospital and Leratong Hospital.

The KwaZulu-Natal hospitals which the commission visited are Prince Mshiyeni Hospital, Addington Hospital, Stanger Hospital, Albert Luthuli Hospital, St Mary Hospital, Hlabisa Hospital, Lower Umfolozi Hospital Port Shepstone Provincial Hospital and GC Crookes Hospital.

Outlining its challenges when conducting these investigations, the commission said some files could not be retrieved due to the department’s policy on retention of files.

It said some files were too old and had, therefore, been destroyed.

“In others cases, records that had been kept manually could not be located, lack of sufficient detail contributed to certain hospitals not being able to locate files, and there was also considerable delay in getting sworn affidavits from the complainants."

The report said commission members who interviewed hospital staff experienced hostile reactions.

“The hostility was from both management and medical personnel. In some instances, members of the commission reported that in some hospitals (in Durban) the hospital staff tried to hide documents from them while others blatantly refused to indulge them,” the report said.

In its findings, the commission said the complainants could not reasonably be said to have consented to the procedure given the current structure of the consent forms and the alleged unethical process used to obtain consent.

Among its recommendations was that the national department of health must facilitate dialogue between themselves and the complainants in order for them to find ways of providing redress to the complainants.

The commission said it would present the report as part if its petition to the South African Law Reform Commission for amendments to legislation to ensure consent is properly obtained.