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SOUTH AFRICA: TB prevalence in prison investigated

Photo: IRIN
An ideal breeding ground for TB
JOHANNESBURG, 9 July 2009 (PlusNews) - Poor ventilation, overcrowding and HIV co-infection make prison an ideal breeding-ground for tuberculosis (TB), but a new study will be among the first in South Africa to quantify TB among inmates and personnel.

The study, "Herisa Rifuba" or "Stop TB" in Setswana, will include about 3,500 prisoners and staff at the Johannesburg Central Prison, nicknamed "Sun City", after a well-known local hotel and casino. The correctional facility has around 12,000 inmates and receives about 500 new prisoners daily.

Study organiser Dr Lily Telisinghe, of The Aurum Institute, a non-profit medical research body, said the findings could lead to better diagnostic methods for identifying the illness in this high-risk group.

Inmate healthcare manager Dr Gladys Nthangeni said so far in 2009 the prison had recorded more than 100 cases of TB, about 10 percent of which were drug resistant.

In 2006, Johannesburg Central became one of the first prisons accredited to offer antiretroviral (ARV) treatment on site. About 530 of were receiving treatment from the prison clinic, said Joyce Lethoba, a project manager at The Aurum Institute, which helped the prison obtain accreditation.

If a prison does not have its own clinic, inmates on ARVs have to be transported to nearby state hospitals to fetch their medication, which carries a greater risk of escapes.

Spillover effects

The start of the study coincided with the graduation of peer educators, who had spent the past month educating their peers and potential study participants about TB.

"You have to make [prisoners] aware of what happens in jail, and we can't run away from the fact that sex happens in jail," an inmate said. "We tell them, 'Test at an early age, gentlemen'," he added. "We are tired of watching people die, and the grave[yards] are full."

About 164,000 men, women and juveniles are currently incarcerated in prisons in South Africa, according to the Department of Correctional Services.

llg/kn/he

Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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