Sunday, 27 September 2009

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Testing prisoners

A survey in four central jails in Maharashtra ordered by the Bombay High Court found that HIV prevalence in prisons is higher than it is in the general population. 

Some 2,787 of 9,830 prisoners were tested, and 77 were found to be positive – that is, 2.76% tested positive against the national average of 0.36%.  

A court-appointed panel who presented the findings of the survey made recommendations that reportedly included screening of all new prisoners for HIV and other STDs, setting up counselling and testing centres, conducting "awareness programmes" and providing anti-retroviral treatment.    The panel recommended that any "screening" would be done only after counselling and consent. It also recommended that not only should the newly diagnosed be assured antiretroviral treatment when they need it, but that the system should ensure that those already on the medications do not have treatment interrupted because they are in jail - a problem reported by NGOs working with drug users, for example.  

Finally, prevention messages also need to be supported with condom distribution and needle exchange programmes in prison - effective methods that the authorities hesitate to implement. 

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