Aids testing encouraged among inmates

Voluntary testing among prison inmates and correctional services employees was encouraged at the launch of the Department of Correctional Services’ HIV/syphilis-prevalence survey in Pretoria on Monday.

Offenders and officials need to know their status because the current 5% of known HIV cases among inmates is most probably incorrect, considering the country’s HIV rate, the department said.

Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Loretta Jacobus said the department is obliged to make every effort to get an accurate picture of the extent of the problem to better treat HIV/Aids.

“I would like to reassure offenders and [correctional services] members alike that the survey is done in a scientific manner, which ensures that the results are reliable and valid.”

She appealed to both groups to participate without fear of stigmatisation or victimisation in the survey. The department has 158 000 inmates, of which known HIV-positive inmates constitute about 5%.

“With more accurate information from the survey, we will be better placed to implement the comprehensive HIV/Aids management plan.”

The survey will assist the department to design an intervention programme in anticipation of the projected impact of the pandemic on staff and offenders.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and the Police Staff Association (PSA) showed their support for the initiative.

“Popcru commends the department and we will work side by side with them to bear the desired fruit,” spokesperson Unathi Katheledi said.

Speaking on behalf of the PSA, Veronica Skosana called on staff members to participate in the survey.

The survey will be undertaken by Limuvune Consortium and will cover all regions of correctional services.

Jacobus and the national commissioner, Linda Mti, tested for HIV, followed by officials and offenders at the launch.

Jacobus said there are nearly 800 inmates receiving antiretroviral treatment.
Approximately 1 200 are on the pre-treatment and counselling programme.

She said negative publicity from NGOs had created the impression that the department is uncaring or unwilling to help ill inmates.

“We are mandated by the Constitution and our own department to provide basic medical care for inmates.”

The United States Presidential Emergency Programme for Aids Relief will fund the survey. The department said R1,7-million was set aside for the project.—Sapa

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