In-depth: HIV in prisons
MALAWI: HIV/AIDS project reaches out to prisoners
Prison authorities refuse to distribute condoms
Johannesburg, 13 November 2002 (PlusNews) - HIV/AIDS education and prevention campaigns often ignore prisoners but a project in Malawi is reaching out to educate them about the disease and treat those with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Malawi prisons are considered fertile grounds for transmission of HIV/AIDS and yet little has been done to prevent the spread of the virus or treat patients already infected, Walker Jiyani, programme director for the Health in Prisons (HIP) project, told PlusNews. "We are the only organisation providing this service," he said. The project is being implemented in 21 prisons across the country and has so far targeted over 5,000 prisoners. Apart from disseminating information and education materials on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, the programme provides free treatment for STIs, malaria and scabies. The prisoners are also informed of various family planning services available in clinics, to encourage them to access family planning services when out of prison. But Banja la Mtsogolo, the NGO responsible for the project, has been advocating for condom distribution in prisons to no avail. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, prison authorities "refuse to accept" that unsafe sexual activities occurred. "In our experience, there is so much high-risk behaviour taking place. We get a lot of cases of genital ulcers and other STIs that indicate this," he noted. At the end of 2001, UNAIDS estimated that Malawi's adult HIV prevalence rate was 15 percent. The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in prisons, however, was still unclear. Poor living conditions - including inadequate sanitation and overcrowding - are also a problem. According to Jiyani, most of the jails "were built a long time ago" and need rehabilitating. "You get places where in one cell which is designed for 100 people, there are about 300 or 400 people," he added. Jiyani believes that HIV-positive prisoners have an accelerated death in prison due to the poor diet and living conditions. The project also disinfects inmates' cells and blankets and distributes soap to improve the prisoners' hygiene to help prevent the transmission of other communicable diseases.