The controversial debate of inmates in Zimbabwe’s prisons receiving condoms has become such a thorny issue it will have to be deliberated in Cabinet, Deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Obert Gutu has said.
Gutu said although the use of condoms appeared a practical response in the fight against HIV and Aids, the move was sensitive because the underlining tone was in fact admitting homosexuality was rife in the country’s penitentiaries, a subject the government has been dodging.
“Distributing condoms in prisons would be accepting the existence of homosexuality which we all know is condemned in the country,” Gutu said.
“It’s a tough call I must admit.
It’s a difficult decision, far bigger for an individual ministry.
On the other hand, combating the spread of HIV and Aids is also important.
I don’t know how distributing condoms could be accepted.
There is a risk of being accused of promoting homosexuality.”
The director of the Aids and TB programme in the Ministry of Health, Dr Owen Mugurungi, told journalists a fortnight ago that his ministry was working with the Justice ministry to address challenges involving the spread of HIV in the country’s prisons.
Mugurungi said there was realisation that homosexuality was becoming rampant in prisons resulting in inmates infecting one another and in turn their spouses upon release from prison.
Deputy minister Gutu however said the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and World Health Organisation were yet to formally notify the Justice ministry of the proposals.
“I have heard of the existence of homosexuality in prisons but I am not so sure how far true that is,” he said.
Mugurungi told NewsDay that giving prisoners condoms was one of the proposals on the table.
“We will do whatever it takes, even if it means giving prisoners condoms,” he said.
The proposals have already sent tongues wagging given that the majority of Zimbabweans are against homosexuality.
President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, several 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.
Proposals put forward by the health ministry also include screening patients for tuberculosis and isolating infected prisoners to curb the spread of TB, which is rife in the country’s prisons.
Dr Charles Sandi, in charge of TB in the ministry’s Aids and TB unit, said a specialist from outside the country has been evaluating the country’s prisons for the past three months.
“Basically, we are working with the World Health Organisation 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.
Sandi said the ministry wants to strengthen the prisons’ capacity to deal with HIV and TB.