This was the topic of one of the close to 100 side events during the 26th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held at the Vienna International Centre from 22 – 26 June, 2017. The event highlighted the importance of ensuring access to effective measures for PMTCT of HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health services in prison.
Mr. Ehab Salah, Prison and HIV Advisor at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pointed out that the 700,000 imprisoned women globally constituted 5 – 10 % of the total prison population of roughly 10.35 million people. HIV prevalence of women in prisons was higher than for men because of sub-standards in hygiene, limited access to services and interruption of the necessary health services during internment. In addition, the mortality rate was rather high because of overdose. Yet, adequate health services in prisons would be required under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3, 5, and 16), as well as under the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ covering the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners (A/RES/70/175) and the Bangkok Rules for Female Prisoners (A/RES/65/229). It was pointed out that in women’s prisons, harm reduction services were even sparser than the limited availability in men’s prisons. As there are fewer women’s prisons, women are frequently incarcerated in locations far away from their residences, resulting in dislocation from support networks.
According to one of the other speakers, Mr. Percy Chato, Commissioner General of Zambia Prison Services and Chair of the African HIV in Prisons Partnership Network (AHPPN), the HIV prevalence in prisons in his country was not only higher than in the community, but the HIV rate in Africa in general was the highest in the world. The reasons were a weak criminal justice system, overcrowding of prisons, lack of resources for the maintenance of existing penal institutions, poor nutrition, lack of health care, high-risk sexual behavior, lack of prevention commodities including condom availability, social stigma, and institutional and societal neglect. He pointed out that women bore the brunt of the HIV epidemic. In general, only 15% of adolescent girls and women knew about their HIV status. It was absolutely necessary to provide overall and clear information on HIV transmission.
Ms. Anne Skjelmerud, Senior Adviser at the Department for Global Health, Education and Research of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, told the audience that access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) constituted a big revolution in her country. Already in 2015, 77% of pregnant women had access to ART, which reduced the risk of transmitting HIV to the unborn baby from 1 in 3 to 2 in 1,000. It would be desirable that such measures for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV be generally available also in prisons.
It is important to note that for the first time the Commission tabled and adopted a resolution regarding measures for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in prisons and other closed settings.
Authored by Soroptimist Herta Kaschitz-Wüstenhagen, Representative to the UN Vienna of African Action on AIDS (AAA) http://africanactiononaids.org and Member of SI Wien-Belvedere.
Photo: Herta in discussion with President Yvonne in Vienna