Harsh prison conditions propagating HIV/Aids – study reveals

Wednesday, 02 July 2008 23:08 by Yassin Yusingwire
Kigali: Faced with overcrowding, hunger and social isolation, Rwandan prisoners have resorted to risky behaviours for comfort rendering them vulnerable to spread of HIV/Aids, research presented at a stakeholders workshop on Wednesday shows.
Prisoners are sharing razors, scissors and syringes, in addition to no condoms when they have often managed to have sexual stints – though not allowed, according to the study conducted in five major prisons across the country.  

The research results indicate that out of 11,329 male and female prisoners tested voluntarily between 2005 and 2008 - average sero-prevalence stood at 6.6% in the prisons of Karubanda and Gitarama (both in Southern province), Kigali central, Gisenyi (northern Rwanda) and Ntsinda in Kigali.

Rwanda now has a general sero prevalence rate at 3% translating to about 290.000 people infected.  Among these, some 53.000 are on antiretroviral medication – including several hundred prisoners.  

In the two-day session, the National Aids Control Commission (NACC) is unveiling different research on HIV/AIDS as part of its Fourth annual conference on the scourge.

Lined on the program include clinical research and therapy, epidemiology and prevention, social and economic domain, policies and implementation of programs, regional survey and multi country programs on sociological research on HIV/AIDS.

The Rwandan prison population is said to have reached between 112,000 and 120,000 as a result of massive arrests after Genocide up until 1999.

The researches notes that the high population leaves prisoners at high risk and vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS. According the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) expert Brian Tkachuk, this situation requires behavioral change as a response measure.

Other findings from related studies - also presented suggest that high rates of HIV infections in prisons are related primarily to the sharing sharp materials - both outside and inside prison, whereas unsafe heterosexual sex is causing the high rates in the general population.   

In Kimironko prison in Kigali, researchers discovered cases of homosexuality. Prisoners there have apparently gotten familiar with the practice that it has been given a Kinyarwanda name ubufilawoni.  

The UN expert – whose research was on the East African region, said HIV/AIDS prevalence in prisons is between six to fifty times higher than that of the general population in Africa.

Most of the inmates are predominantly male making male to male sexual intercourse frequent, the researchers found. Rape and other sexual violence are also very common.

Health Minister Dr. Ntawukuriryayo Jean Damascene pointed to the fact that there were no participants from either the National university of Rwanda or the Kigali Institute of health. The academic institutions with departments handling medicine, no representatives were noticed.