NAMIBIA (CNN) -- A judge is Namibia is delivering a ruling in a case that alleges three women were sterilized without their knowledge. The women, all carriers of HIV, say they were unaware they were being sterilized during childbirth. They say their human rights have been violated and they've taken their doctors to court.
Three years ago Emilia Handumbo was diagnosed with HIV. Thanks to anti-aids drugs she gave birth to a healthy HIV negative baby. But then the letters BTL appeared on her hospital passport. Bilateral tubal ligation is a form of sterilization.
"When I was in labor and about to give birth," she says through a translator, "I was given documents to sign. I thought they were papers for the caesarian but then the nurse said to me I think they are going to close you."
Corinna van Wyk says, "Doctors are taking advantage of them."Van Wyk is part of a team of lawyers suing the Namibian government, on behalf of 18 women, on grounds that public hospitals sterilized them without their informed consent.
Three of the 18 cases are awaiting judgment from the high court. The landmark trial began in June last year.
Human rights groups say that the high profile nature of the case currently before this court has done little to change the conduct of some health care workers here. More HIV positive women who claim they have been forcibly sterilized are still coming forward.
A study by an international NGO unearthed 40 cases in three of the country's regions. Aids activist Jenny Gatsi-Mallet helped conduct the research. She says doctors working for the state have told her they are just following guidelines. She says, "And it was a directive that says any woman who tests positive for HIV should be sterilized straight away."
Is the sterilization of HIV positive women government policy in Namibia? Dr. Norbert Forster with the Namibian Health Department says, "No it's not. Not at all." The reporter asks, "But the allegation is that many of these women were made to sign papers giving consent for sterilization while they were in labor do you think that is ethical?" He responds, "If that is so that is not ethical that is very clear. That is not our position. We have the court case going at this stage. It really revolves around that clarifying what was the situation in these particular cases but in principle that would not be in line with our policy."
Everything hinges on the high court case. If the judge rules in the women's favor a flurry of claims are likely to follow and there are many like Handumbo who would want to see the doctors involved, if found guilty, punished.