Pregnant women die rather than face prejudice over HIV

2014-10-09 16:28

Hundreds of pregnant South African women and girls are dying unnecessarily every year because they are not accessing antenatal care in the early stages of their pregnancies, a new study has revealed.

The Amnesty International study found that the delay is a result of fear of being tested for HIV without informed consent and the possibility of their status being disclosed by healthcare workers due to lack of privacy in some clinics. The research also found that access to transport, especially in rural areas, was another factor.

Releasing the report titled The Struggle for Maternal Health: Barriers to Antenatal Care in SA in Johannesburg today, Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said while these issues were not new in South Africa the organisation “had to bring it to the attention of the department of health because it is a serious human rights violation that continues to happen despite many raising it”.

He said: “It is unacceptable that women are dying unnecessarily because they fear they would be forced to test for HIV and their status will be disclosed because of privacy and confidentiality breaches in healthcare centres.”

“While HIV testing is an important public health intervention it must be done in a manner that respects the rights of women and girls. It is deeply worrying that privacy of pregnant women and girls is not respected in health facilities. South Africa’s government must take urgent steps to correct this,” said Shetty.

Researcher Louise Carmody shared the same sentiments, saying the government had the obligation to ensure that pregnant women were educated about informed consent, their right to privacy and that information relating to their HIV status was kept confidential.

Carmody mentioned some shocking cases that Amnesty International came across while conducting research in clinics in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. HIV-positive patients were given different files to other patients – this was known to the general public – and HIV-positive women were told to come for antenatal care on certain days.

She said: “This infringed on their human rights because if people know that a file in a certain colour is for HIV-positive people they would immediately know the status of the person.”

Amnesty International has handed over the report to the national department of health and it should be meeting with the officials soon to discuss the report’s findings and recommendations.

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