The HIV epidemic has struck prisons, jails and other places of detention around the world with particular severity. As a result, prisons have grossly disproportionate rates of HIV infection and confirmed AIDS cases.
HIV prevalence among prisoners is between six to fifty times higher than that of the general adult population.
According to available data from the UNAIDS 2006 directory of Prisons in Africa (2005), HIV prevalence amongst prisoners in Africa is highest in South Africa (45 percent) in 2006, Zambia (27 percent) and Rwanda (14 per cent) in 1999, and Uganda (8 per cent) in 2002.
“On a global scale, the prison population is growing rapidly. Overcrowding and poor physical conditions of prisons pose significant health concerns especially for HIV prevention and care. Rape and various forms of sexual abuse are also frequent,” said Brian Tkachuk, the regional advisor.
HIV/AIDS in prisons (UNODC Africa) during a presentation on HIV and prisons in Sub Saharan Africa at the fourth annual HIV /AIDS Research and Exchange Conference (July 2-3) taking place at the Serena Hotel Kigali.
The report says that cases of sexual abuse are likely to be much higher than what is reported, while victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence are at a higher risk of contracting HIV.
High-risk sexual and other behaviour such as drug injections and blood mixing, lack of prevention commodities including condom availability, safe tattooing and injecting equipment, absence of intimate/private visits, social stigma institutional and societal neglect, are among the key factors identified contributing to high HIV infection rates in prisons.
“The vast majority of people committed to prison eventually return to the wider society. Therefore reducing the transmission of HIV in prisons is an important element in reducing the spread of infection in society outside of prisons,” Brian noted.
Meanwhile, the HIV situation in prison in Africa remains a highly neglected area. Available information suggests that the situation is extremely dire in some places and needs urgent attention.