Maura Elaripe is at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City this week, closely following sessions on the sexual and reproductive rights of HIV-positive women. As the first woman to publicly disclose her HIV status in Papua New Guinea, the AIDS activist has made it her mission to educate herself and other women about their rights. She talked to IRIN/PlusNews about her own forced sterilisation.
"When I first found out I was HIV-positive, I wasn't tested on a voluntary basis, I was tested because I was pregnant. I wasn't told that they were going to test [me]. Later they told me my blood had tested for HIV. I'm a nurse by profession and when I heard that, I realised that that's the end of me.
"We didn't have any information or services available at that time, in 1997. I wasn't counselled and for three years I went into hiding and just locked myself away from the world. I stayed at home; I left my job, and didn't connect with my family or the outside world. That three years was hell for me. Everyday I would wake up and think: 'When am I going to die, is it going to happen today?'
"After three years, I thought: this is not right, I'm not dead yet; something is wrong here. So I made it my business to learn about HIV and I came in contact with the Australian programme on AIDS and they started talking to me about whether I had received counselling. I said, 'I don't know what you mean by counselling'. I haven't had counselling since day one of my diagnosis. In fact, up till now I haven't been counselled and I tend to counsel other people. I find that that very weird and interesting.
"During that time, I lost two of my babies. They didn't die because they had HIV. The first one died because she was stigmatised, because they said I was HIV-positive, they refused to treat her and didn't find out the cause of her fast breathing. My second baby died because they administered an oral polio vaccine and he instantly developed polio and died as a result.
"Then they forced me to have sterilisation. They said I was stupid to become pregnant; I had no right to be pregnant. This was in 1999. After I was sterilised, they told me it's for your own good and up to now I regret it. I totally regret it because I didn't have information about my right as an HIV-positive woman to sexual and reproductive health.
"I think that [forced sterilisation] is cruel. Every person has the right to marry and have children."
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