Should HIV-positive woman even think about having children? Of course they can have children, but they need to be fully aware and educated about their own reproductive rights.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health nongovernmental organisation (NGO), research in both the developed and developing world suggests that HIV status does not significantly dampen people’s desire to have children. As more and more HIV-infected South Africans access life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, the question of whether or not to have a child, and how to do so as safely as possible, is bound to become more common.
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The disapproval of friends and family, and even some health workers, may deter those less well-informed than Madonsela from learning more about their options. “Most people think if you’re positive you don’t have the right to be in a relationship, or to have a baby,” she said.
HIV-positive pregnant women in many countries face pressure by health workers to have abortions or to be sterilised, according to the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW).
Despite these obstacles, a small but growing number of HIV-positive men and women are deciding to have children. In the developed world there are a number of options: a process called ‘sperm washing’, which separates sperm from HIV-causing agents before being used for insemination, is safest for couples where a positive man wants to avoid the risk of infecting his negative female partner or reinfecting his positive partner; artificial insemination is the safest way of conceiving for couples with a positive woman and a negative man.