41st PCB Meeting
Agenda 6 Report on update on HIV in prisons and other close settings
To be delivered by Sonal Mehta, Asia Pacific NGO Delegation
Thank you, Chair and thank you, Secretariat for presenting a comprehensive background paper appealing to Member States to change the punitive laws that not only cause overcrowded prisons around the world, but often compound the problems related to the health of people most affected with HIV.
A specific issue that I see missing from the current recommendations and decision points is rape and violence against prisoners who are members of key populations. In 2001, Arif Jafar was arrested in the Indian city of Lucknow at the AIDS prevention agency where he worked. Charged with the offense of running a sex club, he was put in lock-up for 47 days, and named in the newspapers. This case helped spark a legal challenge to India’s sodomy law, known as Section 377. Jafar’s case has dragged on for 11 years without coming to trial.
Other examples show how existing services are denied due to stigma and discrimination against key populations in closed settings. A transwoman was raped in a prison in Brazil. After seeking medical care and requesting post-exposure prophylaxis that is offered in prisons, she was denied the prophylaxis and later was diagnosed with HIV.
And we shouldn`t forget about other closed settings: for example refugee camps in Syria and Turkey and Islands in Greece where people are living for years without access to medical care and support. Yes, they have access to testing, but if a person is diagnosed with HIV but there no treatment, it renders the testing almost useless. It’s also about detention rooms, where people are punished for being MSM or injecting drugs have no access to ART treatment and opioid substitution therapy.
But today, I am excited to intervene on this agenda, because I just came from a consultation in Delhi on the New Model Prison Manual, wherein rights and duties of inmates are defined and accessibility to health services of inmates also addressed. A monitoring software for closed settings was also launched to ensure that the provisions thus stated are implemented. A huge onus goes to the HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act 2017, which talks about access to prevention and treatment and penalizes HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Some states have initiated setting up de-addiction centers, providing condoms and OST facilities in prisons. But as an Indian, I can tell you, our problem has never been so much about policy, but about implementation.
It is not enough to have well-meaning policies and plans if they are not going to be turned into actions and measurable indicators. Enough is enough, we think it is high time that policies are made with much more inclusive processes and are implemented on ground for rights of people not advantage of system. We firmly believe business as usual is not enough.