PSAF executive director Lilian Kiefer commended Vice-President Guy Scott for demonstrating his objectivity and strategic leadership in addressing the matter.
“It is encouraging to see the political leadership of Zambia resolving to reframe the discussion of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“Addressing such a sensitive issue and calling on politicians to be a united front has the potential to bring about a significant positive difference in the lives of many people in Zambia,” she said.
Ms Kiefer said Dr Scott’s stance provides a springboard for more sustained interventions to address HIV/AIDS in prisons and other marginalised sectors.
She said Dr Scott had demonstrated the kind of commitment required for Zambia to achieve a rate of zero new HIV infections.
“By acknowledging that such practices as same-sex relations and drug use do take place in our prisons, Dr Scott has challenged all of us who are concerned about HIV prevention to develop specific and targeted responses that address these issues,” she said.
Ms Kiefer called on the private sector and civil society to partner with the Government to develop targeted interventions to prevent the spread of HIV among inmates.
She said to reduce the incidence of HIV and manage the epidemic comprehensively, Zambia needs to be strategic in the HIV response.
“As Dr Scott said, this requires policy guidance to effectively plan for interventions and implement them. This challenges parliamentarians and all of us to take action and make a difference,” she said.
Ms Kiefer said efforts aimed at addressing the transmission of HIV in prisons would have ripple effects in addressing HIV transmission outside prisons.
She said the statement by Dr Scott that prisoners are not less humans in accessing health services underscores a non-discriminatory approach to comprehensively addressing HIV/AIDS in Zambia.
According to the most recent Demographic Health Survey for Zambia (ZDHS 2007), the HIV prevalence rate is 14.3 per cent.
Zambia, therefore, still has one of the highest prevalence rates in sub-Saharan Africa, and the world.
Research has also confirmed that prisons present a concentrated epidemic with higher rates than the outside population.
Ms Kiefer said it was a reality that HIV transmission takes place in prisons and that this should not be ignored.
She said the Vice-President’s address also demonstrated the link between HIV transmission in prisons and the HIV transmission rate in the outside environment.
She implored political leaders, stakeholders and citizens to engage in progressive debates to find lasting solutions to the problem of HIV in prisons.