The government denial of homosexual activities amongst inmates is making it difficult to combat the spread of HIV and Aids within the country’s prisons, an official has said.
Speaking during a Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights workshop on human rights and HIV and Aids, the Bulawayo provincial coordinator for Zimbabwe National Network for People living with HIV and Aids (ZNNP+) Mgcini Sibanda said the denial had made it difficult for inmates to get professional help on HIV and Aids as well as getting Anti Retroviral Therapy.
“For the person in prison condoms are not there because Government denies sex is happening among inmates,” he said.
“From our interaction with prison inmates, we gathered that they spend most of their time locked up and the only form of entertainment is to have sex amongst themselves. Some are calling them unnatural acts but I call them natural.”
He said because of Government position on HIV and Aids in prisons, modalities were not in place to effectively fight the scourge.
“When someone tests HIV positive, he or she should be given all options available to help, but in prisons these are limited. Before someone is put on ARVs, one should go for four counselling sessions, but that can’t happen in prison,” he said.
Sibanda said people living with HIV and Aids have a diet to follow which is comensurate with their condition, but in prison inmates do not get a balanced diet.
“Nutrition is not available in prison. The food is basic with no macro-nutrients for combating HIV and Aids. Generally, attention given to inmates does not meet the government’s own guidelines on HIV and Aids. I once raised the issue with prison authorities and some were rude to me.
Sibanda said: “These people are not on holiday but they have a case against the State and are being given what they came here for.”
He said most prisoners who were on ARV therapy suffered side effects because they were not adhering to the 12-hour periods of taking their medication.
“They are given ARVs at 9am and you find that they will be given another course at 2pm because the authorities want to lock them up in their cells, before they themselves knock off duty. Even opportunistic infections such as meningitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis were only treated when the medication is available.
Most of the infected inmates in prisons are suffering from TB and there are no support systems which could allow relatives to bring medication to the inmates,” he said.
Sibanda said there was need to lobby the government to introduce a clear HIV and Aids policy for prisoners.
The workshop was attended by lawyers, HIV and Aids activists, media and the corporate world.
Contacted for comment, Zimbabwe Prison Service spokesperson, Chief Prison Officer Priscilla Mthembo requested questions in writing.