Training to tackle HIV in Indian prisons

HIV is a global and ongoing problem that is highly prevailing in developing countries. The risk of HIV infection is prevalent in prisons, due to overcrowding, neglect, lack of health-care and food. More importantly, the inmates are engaging in sexual behaviour, making them more vulnerable to receiving HIV. In Mizoram, India, about forty per cent of prison inmates are injecting drug users (IDU’s). HIV rapidly started to spread in Aizwal prison Mizoram's capital, as inmates were sharing needles to inject drugs. This prison, like other prisons have very little medical facilities. The amount of those who have been infected with HIV in Mizoram has increased. Evidently, there is a high rate of drug users, yet there is no drug treatment, support or care available.

UNODC and Mizoram States Control Society have taken action to prevent HIV in Mizoram’s prisons. There will be significant changes, in terms of training of prison staff and inmates, Antiretroviral therapy and counselling which will be made available and accessible for those prison inmates who have been infected with HIV. UNODC will provide support and sufficient treatment, making available the right to healthcare and equality. “Prison should not be a place of punishment but of reformation. Prisons in Mizoram should be clean and comparable with prisons in developed countries,” the minister said and welcomed the UNODC steps taken for prevention of HIV/AIDS in Mizoram.
On the other hand, there are some countries that are not taking adequate action to solve the HIV epidemic. In Zambia, a man said that he was forced to resort to sex in prison due to the fact that there was “no food in prison.” The man said “I had never had sex with a man, but I did it. The first time it was painful, but I joined a group of people of maybe twenty men who did that.” Sex between men is seen as “socially unacceptable and illegal.” Men would have sex with each other “out of boredom…a form of exchange. You could give sex in return for soap, food, salt and so on.” An Indian organisation that works with HIV, National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) argues that condoms need to be urgently made available to prisons.

According to UNICEF, there has been a dramatic rise in HIV infections among men, women and children, in Eastern Europe and Asia. There has been an increase of “66% to 1.5 million people since 2001.” Teenagers in Asia do not learn about sex education and are therefore, not aware of the dangers of unprotected sex. Therefore, perhaps through the media and education, the HIV epidemic will lessen.

Russia has the shocking figure of “1.8 million injecting drug users. 80% of these people are under 30 years old.” Those who have been infected with HIV in Russia are segregated from society, denied access to public and social services, such as schools, because they have been ‘tainted.’ They are deprived of their basic rights and treated as outcasts. In about 5 regions of Russia, the amount of “people who have been infected with HIV since 2006 has gone up by 700%.” This is due to the fact that there is no awareness of this serious problem. There are no “news networks covering this issue.” It is the government’s role to look after their citizens, yet they have failed in addressing this huge HIV epidemic.

Clearly, the issue of HIV is a serious problem, one that needs to be made aware of, addressed and acknowledged urgently. There are some organisations, which aim to eradicate HIV. NACO aims to support and treat every infected HIV person with respect, care and dignity. In order to eradicate this epidemic, NACO will raise public awareness and acknowledgement of this issue by providing more “information about HIV, promoting the use of condoms and emphasising the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.” Through the media and education, HIV can possibly be lessened. For this to occur, HIV education needs to be made available in prisons. The government needs to take into account that prisoners may have language, culture and literacy barriers. Therefore, counselling and support groups should consider this. “Several gripping and effective videotapes have been made by and for prisoners.” On the other hand, I am not sure whether these solutions will completely erase the HIV epidemic, but it is a step in the right direction.

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