HIV, Hepatitis C Prevalence in Canadian Prisons Presents ‘Clear’ Health Risk, Ontario Medical Association Says
HIV and hepatitis C infections are "[r]ampant" in Canadian prisons and present a "clear and present health risk" to inmate populations, prison guards and the general public, according to a report released Wednesday by the Ontario Medical Association, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Blatchford, Globe and Mail, 10/28). Correctional Service Canada -- which oversees the prison system -- reports that in 2002, HIV prevalence among prison populations was seven to 10 times higher than in the general population and hepatitis C prevalence was 30 times higher among inmates than in the general population, according to Reuters. "We have an epidemic in the prison system," Peter Ford, head of OMA's HIV and hepatitis C committee, said, adding, "What we've seen in our studies is people getting infected in prison with HIV and hepatitis C, and then obviously those people are capable of taking this out (into the community)." Michele Pilon-Santilli, a spokesperson for CSC, said that 80% of inmates in the federal prison system have a "substance abuse problem," according to Reuters. There are no needle-exchange programs in Canadian prisons, but prisons provide inmates with bleach kits. However, Ford said that the bleach the prisons give the inmates is so dilute, "it certainly has no effect on hepatitis C, and may not have much effect on HIV" (Reuters, 10/27).
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network on Wednesday released a report that was the "most comprehensive" study of prison needle-exchange programs ever published, according to a CHALN release. The report, titled "Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience," focuses on six countries that currently operate prison needle-exchange programs (CHALN release, 10/27). According to the report, prison needle-exchange programs "make prisons safer" and do not increase drug use among inmates, the Toronto Star reports. CHALN called on the Canadian government to initiate prison needle-exchange programs within 18 months. CHALN Executive Director Ralf Jurgens said that the prison needle-exchange issue is a public health issue for "all Canadians," adding, "Prisoners come from the community, and they return to the community. Most prisoners are in prison for very short periods of time, they have families and loved ones outside and they deserve to have the same access to preventative measures that people outside prisons have." Federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said that he had not read the report but the government will consider its recommendations, according to the Star. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Anne McLellan said that CSC will work with Canada's public health officer, David Butler-Jones, to make recommendations on the issue, according to the Star (Gordon, Toronto Star, 10/28).