SAfAIDS hosts a session on “Good Prison Health is Good Public Health-Domesticating the SADC Minimum Standards for Prisoners’ SRH Rights”
By Tariro Chikumbirike
DURBAN, 19 July 2016 (SAfAIDS Media IAC 2016) - Prisoners are an important group of society who must not be left behind if the world is serious in attaining its target to achieve 90 x 90 x 90 by 2020. This was emphasized by Dr. Vitalis Chipfakacha of the SADC Secretariat at a SAfAIDS Session at the International AIDS Conference currently underway in Durban, South Africa. He noted that currently, SADC Member States are facing a number of challenges, amongst them lack of resources, length in revising laws and policies in their efforts to Domesticate SADC Minimum Standards on HIV, TB, STIs and hepatitis B and C in Prisons Settings. Dr Chipfakacha however highlighted that SADC Member States are on the right track in achieving the Minimum Standards, which is commendable, urging more resources and commitment to be increased for success to be guaranteed.
Speaking at the same occasion, Teclah Ponde from VSO RHAISA shared experiences on good prison health initiatives for Sexual Reproductive Health Rights for Prisoners. Amongst the good practices she shared is the fact that SADC Member States are making progress towards the realignment of policies from punitive to correctional, which is a positive step. There is also open space for dialogue and implementation, thereby creating an enabling environment for change. Ponde also commended SADC Member States efforts in strengthening initiatives targeted at community re-entry, with a special focus towards re-integration to avoid re-offending.
Jason Eligh of UNODC eloquently brought to light how prison systems in Africa are generally still behind with regards to the status they need to be in, emphasizing that more still needs to be done if the SADC Minimum Standards are to be met. He further added that each country has the duty of care for its prisoners, especially ensuring that their right to health care is guaranteed. Currently in most prison settings, TB rates are significantly higher, basic healthcare is a challenge, there is poor nutrition, and there is lack of water for consumption and personal hygiene. He elaborated how complex it is to turn around health services within prisons, as even where the prison authorities onsite, are in agreement with the health changes and rights posed to them, the spheres of influence lie higher than them and in the majority of cases their “ hands remain tied”, which is where the advocacy should be targeted as well.
Thulani Ndlovu, an ex-inmate who served 10 years in a South African Prison for armed robbery bemoaned the non-inclusion of ex-inmates in coming up with strategies of making prison settings to meet the Minimum Standards. “Ex-inmates have the experience and are the best to articulate the challenges as they will be talking from first-hand experience”, said Ndlovu.
In advancing the Leaving No One Behind Agenda, more still needs to be done to ensure that the SRH rights for prisoners and ex-offenders are adequately catered for by all Member States.
Good Prison Health is Good Public Health.