South African Prisons Are ‘Breeding Grounds’ for HIV/AIDS
Crowded South African prisons have become a "breeding ground" for HIV/AIDS, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. Deaths in the nation's prisons "surged" more than 500% between 1995 and 2001, and HIV/AIDS is believed to be largely responsible, Johannes Fagan, a judge who oversees the country's prison conditions, said. He noted that more than 1,000 of South Africa's 179,000 inmates died in prison last year, and that figure could rise to 45,000 per year by 2011 if "drastic" reforms are not made to improve conditions. About 41% of the nation's inmates are believed to be HIV-positive; exact figures are not known because most inmates forgo available testing out of fear of being stigmatized or socially isolated. Vast overcrowding -- the nation's prison system is 63% over capacity -- and the high prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis, which can weaken the immune system, have aided the spread of HIV. The "rampant" presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and the common occurrence of rape have also contributed to the spread of the virus. In addition, many prisoners share tattoo needles and razors, and those engaging in consensual sex often do not take precautions because they "rarely have immediate and private access to condoms," the AP/Post-Intelligencer reports. K.C. Goyer, who researched prisons for the South African Institute for Security Studies, said that the way in which the government currently handles prison health is a "lost opportunity" to reach a vulnerable population and slow the spread of HIV in the general population, according to the AP/Post-Intelligencer. "Prison health is public health. Inmates should leave prison cured of sexually transmitted disease, with a handful of tuberculosis pills in one hand, and a pack of condoms in the other. Imagine the impact it would have on public health," Goyer said. AIDS advocates have called on the South African government to improve prison conditions, provide treatment for TB and other illnesses, expand HIV/AIDS education and provide antiretroviral therapy to prisoners. Like most South Africans, prisoners do not have access to antiretroviral drugs. Advocates have also asked the government to make condoms readily available in the country's prisons (Marquez, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.