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TANZANIA: HIV/AIDS counselling centres set up in prisons

In a move aimed at stepping up the campaign against the spread of HIV/AIDS in prisons, the Tanzanian government has started establishing vocational counselling and testing (VCT) centres to provide services to penal institutions.

"We are now intensifying educational programmes through lectures and video [shows] to wardens, prison officers and inmates," Nicas Banzi, Tanzania's principal commissioner of prisons, said on Monday.

So far, he said, the prisons department had established 12 centres in various parts of the country, which provide services to inmates, prison workers and their families. He added that the centres were part of a national programme to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The government is supplying these centres with anti-retroviral drugs, Banzi said.

He said one of the centres, at the Ukonga Maximum Security Prison in the nation's commercial city of Dar es Salaam, was equipped with equipment to determine the CD4 count in a patient's blood and those found with a low count received treatment immediately.

Banzi spoke after a seminar held in Dar es Salaam to sensitive officials in the prisons department on strategies to fight HIV/AIDS in the penal institutions.

He said the department's major challenge was to raise awareness among all its employees and inmates in order to encourage them to use the centres.

"People with HIV/AIDS continue to be stigmatised," he said, "and that is a big problem making people become reluctant to take voluntary tests and [to] know their status quite early, something that will make them start getting proper treatment and care early."

Official government records show that at least 7 percent of adult Tanzanians, about two million people, are HIV-positive. However, it was not immediately known how many of the country's estimated 50,000 inmates are living with HIV/AIDS. There are fears that the virus could spread fast in the penal institutions due to rampant homosexuality.

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