VICE-PRESIDENT Guy Scott has called on parliamentarians to set aside their political differences and join hands with other stakeholders in the fight against HIV/AIDS in prisons.
Speaking when he officiated at a high-level consultative meeting on prison conditions, policy and legal reform in Chisamba yesterday, Dr Scott called on law makers to show commitment towards improving the health of inmates.
He said this could only be achieved once political differences were set aside.
There have been calls for scaling up prevention of the spread of HIV in prisons by using such safety measures as condom distribution, but some people have argued that the move would instead promote homosexuality.
“I do not see any reason why we should argue about this matter,” Dr Scott said. “Let us take the politics out of this issue because prisons are an ideal environment for the rapid spread of HIV and other infections.”
Dr Scott, who pioneered the ‘Test and treat’ intervention for prisoners, called for early testing and treatment among inmates upon diagnosis with HIV, as a measure to curb the transmission of the virus in prisons and outside the facilities.
The Vice-President called for introduction of a clear policy on HIV and other infections such as tuberculosis in prisons to improve the health of inmates.
He said the prevalence of HIV in prisons accounted for more than a quarter of inmates who were bound to spread the infection in prison and outside prison once released.
“There are a lot of young people who are only incarcerated for short periods of between one and two years who get infected with HIV, and spread it to others outside prison when they are released,” Dr Scott said.
He expressed confidence that the outcome of the ongoing consultative meeting on prison conditions would yield the desired results because of the enthusiasm of delegates who had united for a common cause.
Speaking earlier, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime representative, Mandiaye Niang said evidence had indicated that the burden of HIV in prisons was higher than that of the general population.
He said HIV was a serious health threat for prison populations in many countries, and that it presented significant challenges for public health authorities globally.
Mr Niang said most prisons in the Southern African Development Community were overcrowded.
“The average incarceration rate in the region is 157 per 100,000 inhabitants, and prison occupancy levels average at 138 per cent,” he said.