Good Prison Health is Good Public Health – Raising Awareness on HIV/AIDS in Prison Settings

By | 29 April 2009

Pretoria – As the custodian of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, UNODC’s work in the region is critical. On average, there are approximately 10 million men, women, young people and children held in prison settings around the world – a staggering 668,000 of whom are incarcerated in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Exacerbating the problems that this high level of incarceration alone presents is the issue of HIV/AIDS. In a region that boasts the world’s highest rates of HIV in the population outside of prisons, countries are presented with significant challenges. In addition to drug use and unsafe sexual practices both in and out of prison settings, factors such as extreme prison overcrowding, inadequate nutritional provisions, poor health services, unsafe tattooing and blood rituals and violence, make prisons a high-risk environment for transmission of HIV, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases.

To assist in tackling the issue of HIV/AIDS in Prison Settings, UNODC, along with UNFPA and WHO supported the government of Mozambique to organise a seminar in Maputo, Mozambique in mid-April to discuss the issue health concerns and prison settings. Focussing on the principle of “Good Prison Health is Good Public Health”, the seminar coincided with UNODC’s project “HIV and AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings”. Discussions were extremely relevant and included themes such as prisoners’ right to health; HIV and AIDS and other STIs; Tuberculosis; Mental Health; Women’s health; Environmental Health; and nutrition and/or food security.

With Mozambique’s Minister of Health, Minister of Justice, and Commissioner General for Prisons in attendance, the seminar received widespread media coverage. UNODC participants presented on and discussed a variety of relevant issues such as the HIV situation in prisons in sub-Saharan Africa, UNODC’s HIV/AIDS framework on HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings, and the issue of injecting drug use especially as  it relates to prison and its role in the transmission of HIV.

The sessions resulted in a commitment made by the Minister of Health to improve health service delivery to prisons. Equally important was an assessment made by the Minister of Justice (MOJ) who highlighted the many issues and challenges faced by the ministry in trying to attain good prison health.

The 2-day discussion concluded in a series of action recommendations that could be taken to overcome some of the challenges in achieving good prison health. These recommendations are to be integrated into Mozambique’s national action plan, and following the session are likely to support UNODC’s work in the country.

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