HIV Program For Sajiwa Jail Inmates Kick Starts

IMPHAL, Dec 15: Recognising the rights of people in incarcerated settings to adequate health initiatives, Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS) in partnership with Jail Department and Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+) initiated a program today to reach out to people in prisons and check the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The prison intervention to be initiated at the Sajiwa Jail will provide requisite knowledge and skills on prevention of drug use and HIV/AIDS with the aim of initiating behavior change among the prison community, said a press release.

The launch of the intervention today in Sajiwa jail, was attended by the SP, Central Jail, other officials and members of MNP+.

Themthing, SP Central Jail, said, ‘Such an initiative has been required in Sajiwa jail where a large number of inmates are drug users. A few inmates are HIV positive and they are on Anti retro viral therapy. Linking prisons to external health services and making them available within the prison is important.’

Currently around 620 male inmates are lodged in the Sajiwa jail while around 38 female are lodged in the Central jail in Imphal. Sajiwa has witnessed incidence of inmates with history of drug use. ‘The percentage of drug users among the inmates could be as high as 20 to 30 percent and it is our responsibility to look after their health’, stated Themthing. Studies on drugs use and HIV in prison settings clearly establish the need for a strategy for intervening amongst prison inmates in India.

The World Health Organization report on people who inject drugs (WHO, 2010) states that in 2006, it was estimated that around 372,271 prisoners were in 1336 corrections institutions across India with the numbers steadily increasing leading to overcrowding.

In Tihar jail, Delhi in 2005; it was estimated that 8 pc of the population was injecting drugs of whom 76 pc -82 pc were using heroin. Similarly studies on prison settings in Delhi found estimates of HIV prevalence between 1999 and 2005 to be around 5 pc. In seven studies of female prisoners in India, mv prevalence was 0-14 pc and between male prisoners was between 1 pc ­7 pc.

In Sajiwa jail, services and linkages will be provided for Needle and syringe exchange programs (NSEP), Opioid substitution therapy (OST) and other drug dependence treatment, HIV testing and counseling, Antiretroviral therapy (ART), prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, condoms, targeted information, education and communication (IEC) for people using drugs, vaccination, diagnosis and treatment for viral hepatitis and tuberculosis (TB).

Starting January seven MNP+ will start sensitization workshop for Assistant Jailors, Assistant Warden, and other jail staffs.

‘We are also providing services and awareness for jail inmates so that they learn about the epidemic. This will insure that once they are out of prison they are able to give up drugs or practice safe sex and injecting practices and also able to educate others’, said Ng Ratan, Program Manager, MNP+.

Abhiram Mongjam, JD (TI), MACS, said, ‘We are trying to ensure that our efforts cover all significant populations at risk. We cannot afford to neglect any group of people. Services should reach each and everyone and inside the prison too. The inmates like anyone else deserve treatment, care and support.’

Another important initiative taken by the Jail authorities is its partnership with the positive network MNP+ to create HIV awareness. In June 2009 drug user inmates in Sajiwa took part in an awareness program conducted by the network inside the jail. In addition, the network intermittently reaches out and counsels prison inmates who are living with mv or are need of information. This has led to recognizing the need for a more long term service designed for prison inmates.

‘Since there is limited mobility a service package should be designed to address their need The jail can be a place where they can learn rather than their stay being perceived as punishment for a crime’, said Deepak of MNP+.

Parents often put their children who are using drugs in prison, hoping that incarceration for a few months will cure them of their drug use habit.

‘The Sajiwa jail has numerous such drug user inmates, parents would do anything to make their children leave drugs but imprisonment is not the solution; the drug users become vindictive and take to drugs once they are set free. They need to be introduced to other approaches like rehabilitation and OST. We can help to create this awareness’, said Deepak.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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