Inmates in Zimbabwe’s filthy prisons could soon be receiving condoms while in incarceration to prevent the spread of HIV, NewsDay has established.
According to proposals by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and World Health Organisation (WHO), prisoners could soon benefit from initiatives to curb the spread of the deadly scourge.
The director of the Aids and TB programme, Owen Mugurungi, told journalists attending a workshop whose theme was “Understanding multiple concurrent partnerships and male circumcision” in Kadoma that his ministry was working with the Justice ministry to address health challenges in the country’s prisons.
He said there had been realisation that there was rampant homosexuality in the penitentiaries and upon release the likelihood to affect spouses and girlfriends was high.
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, Mugurungi said: “We will do whatever it takes, even if it means giving prisoners condoms.”
The proposals are likely to reignite intense public debate on homosexuality.
President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, some church leaders and traditionalists have condemned the practice while a large number of Zimbabweans have been speaking out against the practice during the constitution outreach meetings.
However, some civic society organisations see nothing wrong in being gay arguing it was a human right.
Homosexuality is however rife in the country’s prisons and is believed to be on the increase among the younger generation.
Other proposals by the ministry include screening patients for tuberculosis and isolating infected prisoners to curb the spread of the disease which is rife in the country’s prisons.
Charles Sandi, in charge of TB in the ministry’s Aids and TB unit, said a specialist from abroad has been evaluating the country’s prisons health situation for the past three months.
“Basically, we are working with the WHO to review our HIV and TB policy in prisons. What we want to do is to strengthen the diagnosis of all prisoners and this entails immediately screening inmates for treatment, and when diagnosed we will try to ensure that they get supervised treatment,” he said.
“We want to improve infection control measures, through mainly isolating TB patients, but all we can do is recommend because we don’t know how they (Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs) will take it from a security point of view.
“Prisoners are normally not viewed as people with rights and sometimes the responsiveness is very slow, but we hope they will be changes.”
Sandi said the ministry needs to strengthen the prisons’ capacity to deal with HIV and TB.
TB is an air-borne disease and thrives in squalor and where there is inadequate ventilation such as in prisons.