Many pregnant women fear going to state antenatal clinics because they believe they will be forced to test for HIV, and their status will not be kept private, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
But delays in seeking antenatal care are responsible for a quarter of avoidable maternal deaths in South Africa, the report said. “These fears are not unfounded. Amnesty International found that practices at clinics and the behaviour of healthcare workers, combined with problems such as staff shortages and inadequate infrastructure, regularly compromise women and girls’ right to privacy and confidentiality at clinics, as well as their right to informed consent when asked to test for HIV,” the report found.
The organisation interviewed 200 women in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal between March 2013 and September 2014. Researchers also spoke to traditional leaders, nurses, home-based carers and sex workers in the two provinces. Although health department guidelines recommend women seek antenatal care before 14 weeks of pregnancy, less than half of pregnant women attend a clinic before 20 weeks, according to the Human Sciences Research Council.