Report: Conditions In Zambian Prisons Fueling Spread Of HIV, TB

“Conditions in Zambia’s prisons are so overcrowded and medical care so inadequate that they are breeding grounds for disease and pose a serious threat to public health, says a new report by Human Rights Watch, produced in association with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa and the Prisons Care and Counselling Association,”  BMJ News  reports. “Researchers report that similar conditions prevail in much of Africa, where prisons risk becoming reservoirs of HIV and drug resistant tuberculosis” (Moszynski, 4/27).

For the report, “human rights researchers visited six prisons in central Zambia and interviewed 246 prisoners and 30 prison officers,” the New York Times writes. “The researchers found that prisoners were often malnourished because they were not given enough food of nutritional value. Tuberculosis has thrived, and many prisoners are weakened by hunger and exhaustion,” according to the newspaper (Dugger, 4/27).

“Zambia’s prisons service employs only 14 healthcare workers to serve 15,300 inmates, and only 15 of the country’s 86 prisons have clinics or sick bays,” Reuters AlertNet adds. “Testing for HIV — last measured at 27 percent among inmates — and treatment for AIDS have improved at some prisons, but a ban on condoms in prisons, introduced to discourage intercourse and homosexuality, makes prevention impossible, the report said” (Mfula, 4/27).

VOA News reports on the risks prison conditions posed to prisoners and the general public: “Both guards and prisoners leave prisons everyday,” said Joseph Amon of Human Rights Watch. “Their sentences end, they go back into the community, and allowing massive overcrowding and TB and HIV transmission to occur in prisons results in TB and HIV transmission in the community inevitably” (Hennessy, 4/27).

The authors appealed for swift action, including the scaling up of medical officers at each site and efforts to reduce overcrowding, according to a Human Rights Watch press release. “The report … calls on the Zambian government, in partnership with international agencies and donors, to increase medical services within prisons to include on-site HIV and TB testing and treatment, to improve access to external health facilities, and to improve general conditions, end physical abuse, and speed the progress of prisoners’ cases through the justice system,” the release notes (4/27).

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