The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has rolled out a series of trainings to build the capacity of penitentials from SADC member states to uphold human rights and respond to HIV, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) that disproportionately affect women inmates.
The training programmes are set to be offered in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi.
They began in mid-November last year and followed a bigger regional training for trainers of trainers from different parts of the SADC region and beyond.
UNODC has supported the development of a module to build the capacity of non-medical staff of prison or correctional services to deliver comprehensive SRHR and HIV services to inmates under their care.
The training programmes commenced as the world started marking 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in December last year.
Statistics show that the population of women inmates all over the world has increased by 50 percent since 2000.
Evidence shows that women in correctional centres have a higher prevalence of HIV and some other communicable diseases than male inmates.
Professor Heino Stover from Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences was one of the facilitators during the regional training that preceded the national trainings in different SADC member states.
He says lack of integration of prison healthcare into public health systems, poor coordination between health services and the criminal justice system as well as a paucity of policy guidelines and resources jinx efforts to provide equitable access to healthcare for women in prison settings.
In response, the trainings conducted under the UNODC's project titled "Supporting Minimum Standards for HIV, Health and Rights in Prison Populations of Sub-Saharan Africa", seek to align SRHR services with United Nations (UN) minimum standards targeting women and adolescent populations within the sub-region.
UNODC acknowledges that women in prison settings have specific and often more complex healthcare needs compared to the male prison population.
These stem from the consequences of violence and discrimination that are a common thread throughout their lives.
Often sexual abuse and or unsafe sexual practices have exposed female inmates to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.
UNODC contends that the needs of women in prison settings --including those on health -- have largely been overlooked in prison regimes and penal systems which tend to be designed for the majority male prison population.
For that reason, UNODC advocates a wider holistic support for women in prison to prevent HIV and to provide the right treatment and care while addressing stigma and for meeting their mental health needs.
In Zimbabwe, the training took place from November 12 to 14, 2019.
It reached 32 Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service officers.
In Namibia, 35 Namibia Correctional Service (NCS) officers were trained from 3 to 5 December 2019 in Omaruru.
In Eswatini and in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Good Health and Well-being, a national training was held from November 25 to 29, 2019.
The training in Eswatini drew 74 participants from Hhohho, Manzini, Shiselweni and Lubombo regions. Participants were from the Higher Executive Command of His Majesty Correctional Services and staff of prisons who included a medical doctor.
The Commissioner-General of His Majesty Correctional Services (HCMS), Phindile Dlamini, welcomed the training and expressed gratitude to UNODC for funding it.
She said such capacity development initiatives were necessary to ensure that prison officers remain well-informed and up to date about current and emerging issues on HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health in Eswatini stressed that prison health was part of public health and prisons were part of society.
It said maintaining prisoners' good health would benefit the wider society.
In Malawi, the training took place in Blantyre from December 2 to 6, 2019.
It drew 35 participants who included four very senior female prison officers.
Participants recommended that in future similar trainings be conducted over more days to allow more rigorous engagement with relevant issues.
Expectations are that the training sessions will enable staff of prisons to better respond to the unique healthcare needs of female inmates, end sexual gender-based violence and HIV to support efforts towards greater access to services.
This is in line with Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 10 which encourage member states to meet the specific needs of women and girls to achieve gender equality.
Moses Magadza is communication officer with the UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.