Sex for food rocks Ugandan prisons

Luzira Maximum Security Prison

Findings of a prison survey made public last week show a very disturbing reality of the high prevalence of HIV, TB and homosexuality in our prisons.

Commissioned in 2013/14 by the Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija, the survey puts the average HIV perseverance rate among inmates countrywide at15 per cent, which worryingly stands in huge contrast to the national prevalence rate of six per cent.

Among prison staff, the survey found a 12 per cent prevalence and high mortality rate. Sadly homosexuality, practiced by both prisoners and staff, remains an unchecked problem.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting last week, Byabashaija said, “During my HIV prevalence rate survey in prisons in 2013/2014, about 3 per cent of male staff at the prisons have ever had sex with male partners. For prisoners it’s understandable but for staff, it’s very surprising. And the proportion of staff engaging in Men having Sex with Men (MSM) was most prevalent among staff aged 20 -24 years (5.6 per cent).”

He said about 6.5 per cent of male prisoners engage in MSM, a figure twice the number of staff practicing homosexuality.

Faced with such grim facts, prison authorities, out of concern for our legal and ethical boundaries, are still engaged in a delicate debate over whether to give prisoners condoms without being seen to promote homosexuality, which is illegal in Uganda.

As long as homosexuality is a vehicle of HIV transmission, everything must be done to contain its practice or mitigate its dangerous knock-on effects within the confines of our prisons.

With an estimated 165,000 people entering or leaving prisons a year and about 4,700 inmates HIV positive in all prisons, a hugely disease-burdened prison population can seriously undermine the country’s efforts to achieve an HIV free generation by 2030 through testing, treating and monitoring patients.

It’s laudable that prison authorities are doing everything within their power to contain HIV by increasing access to testing centres from 24 to 55 and getting sero-positive inmates to start ART immediately.

But a small HIV budget, prison staff refusing to test or take ARVs and the proliferation of homosexuality stand in the way of mitigation efforts.

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Source: The Observer

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