Taiwan Releases More Than 9,000 Inmates; Action Could Affect HIV Prevention Efforts, Officials Say
A total of 9,597 inmates, including 644 living with HIV, were released from Taiwanese prisons on Monday because of a commutation statute to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of martial law in the country, the Ministry of Justice announced recently, the CNA/Taipei Times reports. According to the ministry, 24,726 inmates are scheduled to be released by the end of the month under the commutation statute and 2,791 of them will need after-care assistance. Minister of Justice Morley Shih said that the ministry will take increased measures to assist HIV-positive drug users in rehabilitation to prevent the spread of HIV. He added that the Taiwan Aftercare Association on Monday sent staff to prisons nationwide to distribute HIV/AIDS prevention, drug rehabilitation and methadone substitution pamphlets (Taipei Times, 7/17).
Health Minister Hou Sheng-mao on Saturday said the release of the inmates will present a significant challenge for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, the Taipei Times reports. "We will have to ensure that newly paroled HIV-positive patients are integrated back into society without spreading the virus," he told an audience of business leaders, advocates and public health experts at an HIV/AIDS summit in Taipei. The summit was sponsored by the Taiwan AIDS Foundation. He added that the battle against AIDS is a "war we have to win."
Hou also highlighted the country's progress in reducing stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive people. "We now have laws protecting the right of HIV-positive patients to live and work without harassment or discrimination," Hou said in reference to the HIV Prevention and Patients' Rights Protection Act, which was amended last month. The act protects HIV-positive people from being denied employment, medical treatment, housing or education. The act also protects residents who contracted HIV from their spouses from being deported.
Stephen Young, director of the Taipei Office of the American Institute in Taiwan, called on businesses to join efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and reduce discrimination against those who are living with the disease (Oung, Taipei Times, 7/14). POZ magazine Editor-in-Chief Regan Hofmann also spoke at the forum, the CNA/Taiwan News reports. She said people living with HIV/AIDS in Taiwan are at a unique advantage because they receive full medical coverage from the government. "This is one of the reasons why Taiwan is in an ideal position to curb the disease," Hofmann said. According to Yang Shih-yang, an official with Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control, Taiwan's harm-reduction projects for injection drug users have been successful. The projects provide access to 60,000 clean needles in 864 locations throughout Taiwan with the goal of reducing the number of people who use injection drugs (Wang, CNA/Taiwan News, 7/15).