Kampala — Every year, around 8,000 inmates in Fort Portal, Gulu and Luzira Upper prisons benefit from a health project which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is handing over today to the Ugandan authorities.
The project's aim is to improve the health of the inmates by enabling the Prisons Medical Services to provide a level of care for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria equivalent to that available in nearby communities and consistent with national policies.
"As we formally hand over the Fort Portal component of the project to the Uganda Prisons Service, the ICRC is quite pleased with what has been achieved so far," said Riccardo Conti, head of the ICRC delegation in Uganda.
At Fort Portal Prison, entry-level medical screening of inmates rose from almost 70 per cent in 2009 to more than 90 per cent in the second quarter of 2012. In addition, malaria incidence decreased significantly, the tuberculosis treatment success rate went from around 46 per cent in 2009 to more than 86 per cent in 2011 and is expected to remain the same in 2012. Also, access to HIV care has improved markedly. Results in Luzira Upper and Gulu prisons, where the project has already been handed over to the authorities, were similar.
"Our plan was to provide the Uganda Prisons Service and the Ministry of Health with a tested and functional cost-effective model for better prevention and care for HIV, TB and malaria, a model which can be replicated using government resources across the prison system," said Dr Fatah Labib, an ICRC health programme manager.
The project - the outcome of a 2006 study on health issues in Uganda prisons - was developed in Fort Portal, Gulu and Luzira Upper prisons. The success achieved is the result of the cooperation and professionalism of the National Working Group, launched in 2007, which comprises the Uganda Prisons Service, the Ministry of Health and the ICRC.
"In the course of implementing the project, the ICRC mobilized many health service providers in support of the Uganda Prisons Service," said Mr Conti. "It is gratifying to note that, overall, the results compare favourably with the national average in terms of reducing the incidence of tuberculosis and malaria and effectively managing HIV cases."
In Gulu Prison, the ICRC helped set up a health-care centre with a fully functional outpatient department, a maternity ward and a laboratory. The centre serves an average of 2,300 people every year. Although inmates are the primary beneficiaries, prison staff and members of the surrounding communities also have access to the services. In Luzira Upper Prison, between 3,900 and 4,400 inmates per year benefited from the health project between 2009 and 2011.
The ICRC has been working since 1979 in Uganda, where it helps refugees and detainees, provides water and sanitary facilities (in cooperation with the Uganda Red Cross Society), and promotes awareness of international humanitarian law and supports its implementation.