Thursday, 13 October 2011

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First HIV counselling and testing centre opens in Chennai jail

A centre to counsel and test prisoners for HIV in Puzhal jail, Tamil Nadu, may become a model for HIV services in Indian prisons.

The country’s first Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC), aimed at providing HIV counselling and testing to convicted prisoners, was inaugurated at the central prison complex in Puzhal near Chennai on July 27, 2008.

The centre has been set up jointly by the Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority, the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TNSACS) and the additional director general of prisons.

Project Director Supriya Sahu said similar centres would soon be opened in eight other central prisons in Tamil Nadu -- Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Madurai, Salem, Palayamkottai, Tiruchi, Vellore, and a second one in Puzhal.

The centres will provide free counselling and testing to all prisoners who wish to check their HIV status.

Each ICTC will be equipped with the appropriate diagnostic tools -- testing kits, refrigerators and centrifuges -- and will be manned by a trained counsellor and lab technician. Prisoners who are found positive will be given drugs for opportunistic infections and those with low CD4 counts will receive antiretroviral drugs. Absolute confidentiality as to the status of the individual who is tested will be maintained, Sahu said. Prison staff have been trained in HIV diagnosis and treatment so that HIV care is mainstreamed into general health services.

Tamil Nadu is a high-prevalence state with around 1.78 lakh HIV-affected people. But it has brought down the prevalence of infection from 1.13% in 2001 to 0.34% in 2006, according to TNSACS.

HIV intervention programmes in three prisons in India -- Tihar jail in Delhi, Arthur Road jail in Mumbai and the Amritsar central prison in Punjab -- focus on prevention of HIV among substance users in prison.

The only state that has a detailed AIDS policy is Manipur which has 8% of India’s HIV-positive cases. The policy, formulated in 1996, has a section on HIV/AIDS in jails. It stipulates that pre-test and post-test counselling be provided to prisoners, and that test results should not be communicated to the prison administration without the prior written consent of the prisoner. AIDS awareness educational material is to be made available to prison staff, and prison medical officers must have orientation training in the diagnosis, treatment and counselling of prisoners with HIV/AIDS. Prisoners will also be provided adequate information about HIV/AIDS, particularly the risk of homosexual contact in prison and intravenous drug abuse.

The policy also states that “adequate steps” shall be taken to prevent the sharing of illicit/unsterilised needles and syringes inside the jail premises, and HIV antibody tests are to be made available on request to prisoners. Discrimination and segregation of sero-positive prisoners is not allowed and medical services must include necessary preventive measures for proper care of drug users, HIV-positive and AIDS cases.

Source: www.chennaionline.com , July 2008
             SAATHII electronic newsletter, July 2008
             www.hindu.com, July 2008
             www.imphaleast.nic.in, July 2008