WINDHOEK - New medical equipment worth N$550 000 donated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) is indicative of collaborative efforts tailored towards improving the health of Namibian prison inmates.
UNODC secured the equipment with financial assistance from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The equipment will enable the NCS to set up a clinic at the female section of the Windhoek Correctional Facility.
Signe Rotberga, the UNODC Regional Coordinator, handed over the equipment to the head of the NCS, Commissioner General Raphael Hamunyela on Wednesday last week.
Hamunyela thanked UNODC for the donation, which he said was timely. He said NCS planned to open a Female Centre in March at the Windhoek Correctional Facility premises with a carrying capacity of 108 inmates.
The planned female centre will serve all female offenders admitted into NCS with programmes for education and training of female inmates, according to the Commissioner General.
Additionally, it will have a child-friendly area for children under the age of two years to bond with their mothers. Hamunyela revealed that the NCS had eight circumstantial children - children who are in correctional facilities together with their convicted mothers across its facilities.
"The female centre will also have a health clinic to cater for the health of female inmates. Hence, the support with furniture and medical equipment to furnish the Female Centre clinic by the UNODC is indeed a befitting gesture, particularly in light of current financial constraints."
The donated equipment includes desks, chairs, benches, couches, cabinets, refrigerators, television sets, and medical equipment including a wheelchair, trollies, thermometers, drip stands, beds, mattresses, bedside lockers, pillows, blankets, bed sheets and steps.
Hamunyela said over the years, UNODC has supported NCS significantly.
"The support by the UNODC goes way back and we have recorded a lot of projects since 2015, ranging from training our officers and offenders in HIV and AIDS management; fitting our two ambulances with equipment; spearheading the drafting of the NCS's Health Policy; supplying us with doctors' kits and equipment; funding a trip for seven NCS officers to important educational trips on change management; funding the NCS to host critical meetings and trainings; and many other activities. The list is endless," stated Hamunyela.
He commended Ruusa Mushimba, the UNODC Namibia Programme Coordinator, for facilitating the collaboration between UNODC and NCS.
He revealed that recently, UNODC agreed to fund rehabilitation programmes in NCS in line with the Doha Declaration on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) Agreement and Public Health, which reaffirms flexibility in circumventing patent rights for better access to essential medicines.
"Projects, which are currently at different stages of development, include the creation of a soap-manufacturing project and refurbishment of the industrial workshop at the Windhoek Correctional Facility, a hydroponics project and the repair of the water reservoir at the Gobabis Correctional Facility as well as a card-making project at the Walvis Bay Correctional Facility," the Commissioner General said.
He said the donation of medical equipment would enable NCS to discharge its mandate of providing "a safe, secure and humane custody of offenders, to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the community as law abiding citizens".
Hamunyela said the NCS's vision is to be Africa's leader in the provision of correctional services. He said with all-weather friends like UNODC, it is no longer a question of if, but when that vision would be achieved.
"We stand ready to intensify our collaboration and to introduce more programmes for offenders even after they are released," he said.
UNODC's view is that ensuring that people in correctional facilities enjoy the same or even equitable access to health facilities and services as the general population is often easier said than done due to the unique challenges that people in confinement face.
The UN agency says prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS is much higher in correctional facilities than in the general population. Additionally, funding for health programmes in prisons is much lower than in the general society.
Yet, in spite of these challenges, UNODC says, some countries, including Namibia, have shown remarkable leadership in reforming prison systems and in the rehabilitation of prisoners while ensuring that communities are protected from crime. UNODC has commended the Namibian government for its unwavering commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3, which seeks to improve the health and wellbeing of all people.
It says Namibia is taking the lead in the implementation of the programme titled, 'Supporting Minimum Standards for HIV, Health and Rights in Prison Populations of Sub-Saharan Africa', which aims to ensure that prison populations, especially women and adolescents in prison, have access to good quality HIV and AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Services (SRHR).
UNODC says NCS has set an example for other countries to follow on issues related to incarceration and health. This, at a time when each year, over 30 million men and women spend time in correctional facilities, which have typically higher prevalence for HIV, TB, sexually transmitted infections, and hepatitis A and B.
UNODC's view is that sexual and reproductive health is one of the fundamental human rights and is integral to the health and wellbeing of every person, including those incarcerated, and that prisoners and people who use drugs have greater risks of HIV infection in comparison to the general population.
In some countries, prisoners and other hard to reach members of society who are also known as key populations are often not adequately reached with quality health services. In some instances, prisoners frequently experience violations of their human rights.
UNODC says for Namibia to achieve the SDGs, quality SRHR and HIV services should be accessible to everyone, including prisoners must be prioritised.
Given that equipment is not a silver bullet, UNODC encourages correctional services to be relentless in building the capacity of their staff to effectively support ongoing reforms of the prison sector. This, in line with the Nelson Mandela Rules, which stipulate the minimum package of care and services that people in confinement are entitled to.
Last year, UNODC and NCS undertook an assessment of Namibia's compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules and explored ways of improving linkages on SRHR, HIV and AIDS services.