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Screening in Tihar jail reveals large number of HIV-positive inmates

The authorities at Tihar jail, which began HIV screening a year ago, are shocked at the number of inmates who have tested positive, most of them drug users

The spread of HIV in the country’s prisons has been of some concern to those working in the field of HIV/AIDS. A year after Tihar jail in Delhi started screening inmates for HIV, this concern has been vindicated. Prison authorities say they are shocked at the number of prisoners who have tested positive. 

Tihar jail houses around 11,500 prisoners. The decision to set up a testing centre was taken after it was noticed that drug abuse was on the rise inside the jail. In June 2008, Tihar set up an integrated testing and counselling centre with the help of the National AIDS Control Organisation. Of the 1,709 prisoners tested, 140 tested positive; around 93 of these are drug users. Since the tests were done, several prisoners have been released or are on parole, bringing the number of HIV-positive prisoners currently in the jail to 63.  

A spokesperson for the prison said that since the testing centre has been in place, medical treatment has been provided to the affected inmates. 

There are an estimated 300,000 prisoners in India. Three other jails in the country have testing and counselling centres: Arthur Road jail in Mumbai, Puzhal central prison near Chennai, and Amritsar central prison.  

Drug abuse is a common problem in prisons all over the country. The Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS unit lists other practices that make prisoners vulnerable to HIV infection: sexual activity (coerced and consensual), floating population of undertrials, and the often closed, overcrowded, violent and unsafe prison environment. 

Most state governments are taking the issue lightly. The Bombay High Court is hearing a case around the failure to provide treatment to HIV-positive prisoners at Pune’s Yerawada jail. In a recent hearing, the court fined three government officials for not reporting before it, as ordered, on the government’s plans to provide care to HIV-positive prisoners in the state.  

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

Source: The Indian Express, July 23, 2004
          http://www.lawyerscollective.org/, July 2009
          www.hivaidsonline.org, July 2009
          http://infochangeindia.org/200807297232/, July 2009 


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