Some 500 women in South Africa have been allegedly sterilised against their will because they were HIV positive, according to a survey.

The report was aimed at identifying stigma against HIV-positive people in communities. The results were published after investigators interviewed some 10,473 HIV-affected people in 18 districts across the country.

A total of 498 out of 6,719 women interviewed said they believe they were sterilised for being HIV positive.

Professor Khangelani Zuma from the Human Sciences Research Council, which conducted the survey, said women understood the question before answering and thus the results of the report, which was conducted anonymously, were correct.

Sethembiso Mthembu, founding director of the NGO Her Rights Initiative, was quoted by Times Lives as saying: "The data of 498 cases basically confirms the practice is widespread. It is systematic.

"It is not a few rotten apples. This number suggests to us that this is the implementation of some kind of policy that the Department of Health needs to explain.

"It costs money to sterilise people, therefore it must be coming from a silent government policy. The department must be held accountable."

When contacted by IBTimes UK, South Africa's Ministry of Health said: "It is not our government's policy to sterilise people against their wishes.

"The fact that the survey was conducted anonymously, makes it very difficult for us to investigate on the allegations. If there is anyone who knows the name of the people who were sterilised, they need to make us aware.

"We believe that this is wrong and should not be done. Nobody should be sterilised against his or her will."

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV epidemic in the world. As per 2012 estimates, there were 6,100,000 people living with HIV in the country.