Capacity developed to deal with HIV/AIDS in prison population

The Ministry of Home Affairs through the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project has embarked on a mission to help decrease the spread of HIV among the prison population and to help reintegrate infected persons into society at the end of their prison sentence.

Significant sums of money have so far been spent to purchase equipment to establish a voluntary counselling and testing site, to conduct training programmes for prison officers and recruits and to provide care and counselling facilities.

This is aimed at enabling the prison department to increase its capacity to improve the quality of medical care being provided to the prison population.

Recently, in keeping with the objective, the ministry through funding from the World Bank opened a High Dependency Care Unit at Lusignan Prison, East Coast Demerara, to deal with inmates suffering from infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS.

This facility will facilitate the proper care and management of prisoners suffering from infectious diseases.

At the handing over ceremony for the Unit, coordinator of the Ministry’s Focal Point HIV/AIDS programme, Lorna Harry give a summary of all that has been done so far to tackle this disease in the prisons.

According to Harry one of the ministry’s concerns is the increasing number of persons being admitted to the prisons with communicable and non-communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

The Guyana Prison Ser-vice’s mandate is to keep in safe custody, offenders sent by the courts and to help them so that they could lead productive lives after their release from prison.

In keeping with this mandate collaborative efforts are being pursued to integrate and promote safe behaviours, leading to positive, healthy lifestyle changes among inmates. This category of individuals is often difficult to target while outside of the prison environment.

Harry said that so far nearly $1.3M in equipment to facilitate HIV/AIDS prevention activities has been purchased. This step will ensure that on a continuing basis, accurate, non-judgmental accessible information on the disease in various formats will be provided to prisoners.

According to Harry, this is one of the central components of the health promotion orientation programme which will be mandatory for all prisoners on admission.

She said further that $535,000 was also spent to establish a voluntary counselling and testing site at the Georgetown Prison which will be manned by prison officers trained by the National AIDS Programme Secretariat as counsellors and testers.

“Pre-and post-testing which is a mandatory component of HIV protocols will be strictly adhered to and the necessary support will be made available to prisoners when receiving test results and in the period following,” Harry said.

Meanwhile, three prisoners were trained in home-based care, equipping them with enough knowledge to offer support to medical staff in the provision of care and support to prisoners infected with the HIV virus.

A prison officer was trained in HIV/AIDS Life Cycle Management, which gives that officer the ability to facilitate discussions on issues regarding HIV/AIDS and counselling.

There have also been training programmes for 122 recruits and 131 prison officers were sensitized on the basic facts of HIV/AIDS infection and prevention.

Harry said that $4,412,295 was received as part of a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health through the Health Sector Develop-ment Unit and the Ministry of Home Affairs to enhance the prison infirmaries thus promoting the health and welfare of prisoners. This new development, she added, will reduce the number of referrals to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

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