The Department of Health will investigate allegations that women living with HIV were coerced to undergo involuntary sterilisation.
Last month, the Commission for Gender Equality released a report on the practice after an investigation that was prompted by a complaint it received in 2015.
The commission had sampled 15 hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where most complaints were lodged.
Answering questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday, Deputy Health Minister Joe Paahla said it was extremely disturbing.
He said the department had no policy or guidelines for the sterilisation of HIV-positive women. Paahla said the department had received the commission’s report and requested its legal department to investigate the matter.
The department will also establish a panel of experts to investigate forced sterilisation and will look beyond just Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Paahla asked the affected women to come forward. “Where there have been transgressions, we’ll take appropriate steps.”
He said, thus far, the commission had not provided the department with clear information about the affected women.
“We have no policy that says HIV-positive women, who deliver by caesarean, must be forced to sterilise. We need credible information that will guide us as to where to intervene.”
While the commission’s report found medical staff had breached their duty to care for the women, it stated that due to lost files, it was difficult for it to identify the exact medical practitioners involved in the sterilisation of women living with HIV in South Africa, News24 reported last month.
The commission’s report found the practice was “cruel, torturous or inhuman and degrading treatment”.
It also said the complainants’ right to quality and freedom from discrimination had been violated as well as their right to dignity, bodily integrity, and freedom and security over their bodies.
Furthermore, the practice violated the right to the highest attainable standards of health, including their sexual and reproductive rights, the commission added.
It also found complainants were not provided with adequate knowledge about the sterilisation procedure before being asked to consent, thus violating their right to information.