12 May 2013

Zimbabwe: HIV Wreaks Havoc in Prisons

THE HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe prisons stands at 27%, a figure almost double the national prevalence rate, a health official revealed.

Aids and TB Unit director in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Owen Mugurungi, said women prisoners were the worst affected by HIV.

"The prevalence rate for prisons was found to be double the national prevalence. It was around 27%, but when you look at gender, women were more affected at around 39%," Mugurungi said.

The Zimbabwe Prisons Services is on record saying that they would not allow HIV and Aids preventative measures such as condoms, claiming this was tantamount to legalising illicit behaviour. This is despite the known existence of homosexuality in jails.

According to the Prisons Act, homosexuality is viewed as sodomy and if there are witnesses to the act, the offenders would be punished. According to the 2010-11 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), the HIV prevalence rate in the country is now 15%, down from 18% in 2006.

HIV prevalence continues to be higher among women than men; 18% of women are HIV-positive compared to 12% of men.

Mugurungi said the ministry of health was cooperating with prison officials to come up with strategies to strengthen both prevention and treatment of HIV patients.

"I must say that this is not just for prisoners but also prison workers and communities living around prisons," he said.

Mugurungi added that the ministry together with prison authorities, trained staff to work within prisons, so that they could start providing anti-retroviral therapy within the correctional facilities.

"But the decision of where and when is really within the ambit of prison authorities. We as ministry can only train them and capacitate them," he said

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