Feature story

ICASA 2008: HIV in prison settings

06 December 2008

(from left) Sylvie Bertrand, UNODC Regional Programme Coordinator HIV and AIDS in Prison Settings - Southern Africa; Dr Johnson Byabashaija, Commissioner General Uganda Prisons Service
Credit: UNAIDS/Mamadou Gomis

“If we do not implement adequate measures to prevent HIV infection in prisons, people incarcerated will always be vulnerable to the disease,” said Mr Gallo Diop, a former prisoner and AIDS advocate from Senegal.

Mr Diop was speaking on Friday 5 December at an ICASA session organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) titled “HIV and AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support in prison settings”.

He emphasized that the movement of people in and out of prisons is also contributing to the spread the virus among those outside of prison settings.

Session participants analyzed the impact that HIV is having inside African prisons and there was consensus that addressing HIV situation in prisons is a key component of effective responses to AIDS.

Overcrowded prisons with poor facilities and sanitary conditions combined with a lack of HIV prevention services, health care and adequate nutrition are contributing to the spread of the virus argued participants. They identified the need for more data and research to identify the nature and patterns of risky behaviours.

Brian Tkachuk, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Advisor for HIV and AIDS in prisons - Africa
Credit: UNAIDS/Mamadou Gomis

“There is still a knowledge gap in understanding the magnitude of the epidemic in African prisons and its multiplier effect on the non-prison population in the region,” said Brian Tkachuk, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Africa Regional Advisor for HIV and AIDS in prisons during his presentation.

In order to mitigate the impact of HIV in prisons, Mr Tkachuk highlighted the need to raise awareness of HIV among prisoners, promote peer education and provide access to prevention interventions like availability of condoms, safe tattooing and injecting equipment, and access to private visits with partners. He also underscored the need to provide access to HIV treatment and adequate nutrition for prisoners living with HIV.

Mr Tkachuk noted that “the HIV situation in prisons remains a highly neglected area that needs immediate attention,” and he called for the adding of HIV in prisons into National AIDS responses.

“You can never succeed in addressing the AIDS situation in prisons if you don’t have total political commitment,” said Dr Johnson Byabashaija, Commissioner General Uganda prisons Service. At the same time, he emphasized, there is a need to establish strong information management systems to collect qualitative data for the development of focused advocacy and HIV prevention programmes for prison settings.

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External links:

Official web site of ICASA 2008


Interview with UNODC Africa Regional Advisor for HIV and AIDS, Brian Tkachuk