29 July 2008

HIV+ inmates on ARVs to increase

The number of HIV-positive prison inmates on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is set to rocket by 76 percent this year, according to correctional services department projections.

The number of HIV-positive prison inmates on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment is set to rocket by 76 percent this year, according to correctional services department projections.

Briefing Parliament's portfolio committee on Tuesday, deputy prisons commissioner development and care, Subashini Moodley, said there were 2718 prisoners on treatment in March this year, and it was estimated 4 800 would be receiving ARVs by the end of the current financial year.

The figures were projected to "jump quite a bit", she told members. The anticipated increase has prompted correctional services commissioner, Vernie Petersen, to apply to Treasury for a dedicated ARV budget of R10 million.

"I have applied to Treasury for an allocation in this regard." The cost of providing ARVs to prisoners was "beginning to impact" on his department's budget, he told the committee.

Committee chairman Dennis Bloem described the situation as "very worrying".

How the survey was done
According to figures presented by Moodley, the prevalence of HIV among sentenced offenders nationally is 19.8 percent, "a little bit higher than the national average of 16.25 percent".

This estimate was based on a scientific survey carried out among 10 percent of sentenced prisoners, including males, females and juveniles, in regions around the country. The survey, conducted between November 2006 and April 2007, involved 8 649 offenders and 3042 correctional service staff members.

It found 19.8 percent of offenders were HIV positive, as were 9.9 percent of the staff. The survey also identified KwaZulu-Natal prisons as having very high HIV prevalence rates - 34.6 percent among offenders, and 22.7 percent among staff.

The committee was sitting to examine the issue of medical parole for terminally ill inmates.

Bloem told members 1315 prisoners had died of Aids in prisons during 2006. He said the granting of parole to terminally ill prisoners needed to be examined, so that such prisoners could be sent home to "die with dignity".

Homosexual activity most common way of transmission
According to figures presented by Moodley, a total of 53 prisoners received such medical parole between July 2007 and the end of June this year, and it was "not easy to say how many of these are HIV related".

The 1998 Correctional Services Act states that prisoners "diagnosed as being in the final phase of any terminal disease or condition may be considered for placement under correctional supervision or on parole".

According to a draft document - titled HIV/Aids in Prison, and compiled by Parliament's Research Unit - distributed among members at Tuesday's meeting, South Africa's prisons create "many situations of high risk behaviour for HIV transmission".

The most common of these is homosexual activity, including rape. "Homosexual activity in prison is a regular occurrence... At Westville Medium B prison... social workers estimate that more than half the prisoners participate in sodomy, both voluntary or through threats and coercion."

The document says homosexuality is forbidden in South African prisons and "is regarded as a punishable offence".

Referring to sex in prisons, Petersen told the committee "we can't have our heads in the sand". Condoms were distributed among prisoners because "we have to give people the choice to protect themselves", he said.

The draft document also highlights the lack of medical care available to HIV-positive prison inmates. "It is unfortunate that the lack of proper medical care has become another punishment for prisoners in general, and Aids patients in particular, though this is unconstitutional," it says. – (Sapa, July 2008)

Read more:
Not enough shrinks for SA jails
Live longer in prison


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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