/ 17 May 2013

Access to HIV treatment for Zimbabwe prisoners challenged

Access To Hiv Treatment For Zimbabwe Prisoners Challenged

The Supreme Court will face a test case on Monday concerning the rights of HIV-positive prisoners, when it will be asked to compel police and prisons to provide antiretroviral treatment to detainees.

Douglas Muzanenhamo, a Harare resident, filed a constitutional application seeking an order to compel the Zimbabwe Prison Service to provide antiretovirals (ARVs) to HIV-positive prisoners.

Muzanenhamo was a member of a group arrested and charged with treason for allegedly plotting a coup against President Robert Mugabe, using the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt as a guide. Muzanenhamo and other activists had attended a meeting organised by socialist movement leader Munyaradzi Gwisai to discuss lessons Zimbabwe could learn from the revolution that led to the toppling of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

Muzanenhamo alleges that his health deteriorated significantly during the month he spent prison because police and prison officers denied him his medication. As a result, he says his CD4 count – an indication of his level of immunity – fell from 8 000 to 579.

Respondents in the case are commissioner of prisons Paradzai Zimondi, attorney general Johannes Tomana, the Harare Central Police Station, police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri, co-ministers of home affairs Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone, and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

In high court
Muzanenhamo's case is not the first in which the prisons service and the police have been accused of denying those in detention access to treatment, but is a first for the highest court. In 2008 police denied human rights activist Jestina Mukoko access to her HIV treatment while she was detained on allegations of recruiting people to overthrow the government. She was later acquitted of all charges.

Muzanenhamo, who is represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the police and the prison services contravened his right to life as provided for in the country's Constitution.

Muzanenhamo's lawyer, Tawanda Zhuwarara, said while there was no statutory provision concerning HIV treatment for inmates, sections 36-43 of the Prisons Act mention the provision of medical facilities for prisoners. "Muzanenhamo's constitutional application is justified because his rights were violated. He was treated in a cruel and inhuman manner inconsistent with section 15 of the Constitution."

Muzanenhamo's case also brings conditions in Zimbabwe's prisons into the spotlight, particularly concerns over nutrition and overcrowding, which have, in the past, been condemned by nongovernmental organisations. The HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe's prisons is about 27%, double the national rate of 13.7%.

Tinashe Mundawarara, HIV and Aids project manager of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said that while some inmates are able to access ARVs through the government programme, they cannot be monitored effectively as prison nurses collect the drugs on their behalf.