A total of 592 inmates in Namibian prisons are living with HIV out of a population of 4 561.
This was revealed by Namibian Correctional Service commissioner Sam Shaalulange yesterday, adding that the prison service is training nurses at its facilities to ensure that inmates are tested for HIV and put on treatment immediately.
The training is also to ensure that those already on treatment continue taking their daily dose religiously.
He said through the ongoing 'Nurse-Initiated Management of Anti-Retroviral Therapy' training which started on Monday, all correctional facilities in the country will have improved access to HIV testing and anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
While the first training session ends today, Shaalulange said a second training programme, the 'Provider-Initiated Testing and Counselling', will run from 18-22 November.
Both these training sessions are funded by the United Nations Programme on HIV-AIDS, and supported technically by the health ministry.
He explained that the training of nurses comes as part of their health policy, which has a monitoring and review plan, and thereby guides the fraternity on what activities to work on.
"The inmates will be able to be tested for HIV, treated, monitored and supported by the trained healthcare personnel inside the correctional facilities.
"Currently, the ARVs are readily available to all inmates in all correctional facilities, and they take them as any other normal client from the public health facilities. But in our case, these are given under direct observed therapy," added Shaalulange.
The safety and security ministry's commissioner general, Raphael Hamunyela, said in a statement released this week that the training is an attempt to decentralise services.
"The ultimate goal of these two training programmes is to optimise HIV testing services, increase adult and paediatric anti-retroviral service coverage, and the decentralisation of ART services at all levels of healthcare in the Namibian Correctional Services," he noted.
Timothy Shangadi, the deputy director of investigations in the Office of the Ombudsman, applauded the correctional facilities for their hard work in fighting HIV infections amongst inmates by training their staff accordingly.
"There are inmates who [initially] test negative, and then later test positive [after imprisonment]. This means that it [sex] is happening inside prisons. People are getting infected, and you cannot stop a person from engaging in sexual relations because it is a normal part of being human.
"That is why there should be a means for them to protect themselves," said Shangadi, referring to the distribution of condoms in prisons.
He said the bigger problem lies with holding cells, where people are sometimes kept for extended periods while it should in fact be for 48 hours at most.
"The holding cells remain a challenge. Things can get really worse in holding cells, and all kinds of things can happen there," said Shangadi.