Stakeholders from all over Southern Africa have made a clarion call for intensified multi-sectoral and collaborative efforts in improving the health of prison inmates, particularly in the face of high HIV prevalence rates and generally poor conditions that prevail.
The situation in prisons which is not only limited to African countries has continued to deteriorate, posing a danger to inmates and society since prisoners go back to their communities upon release.
Zimbabwe has a high HIV prevalence rate among prisoners of around 28%.
“The overcrowding in most prisons is both alarming and cause for great concern.
“In more than 115 countries, prisons are overflowing and this makes it unhealthier,” Clive Ingleby, the lead adviser for the health programme for VSO in UK, said.
VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries and is currently involved in the prisons project along with other partners.
Addressing participants who included correctional officials from at least seven countries in Southern Africa, Ingleby said it was difficult to tell if there had been progress or stagnation in improving the welfare of inmates.
“They should be treated as patients when they are sick and their rights observed as per the Nelson Mandela Rules of 2015” he said.
In December 2015, the United Nations general assembly adopted its landmark resolution 70/175 entitled United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which were later revised and renamed Nelson Mandela Rules in recognition of his contribution to society.
Speaking at the same event, Edson Mugore from the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) said there was need to establish whether the prisoners were already infected with HIV when they were incarcerated or got infected while inside.
“However, our efforts are being hampered by the lack of data and this makes it difficult to engage policy makers and influence change,” he said.
“Of concern also is the fact that women inmates have increased by 50% and yet there are no provisions specific to women like sanitary ware. They are also more vulnerable to being infected than men.”
Justice ministry secretary Virginia Mabhiza who was representing Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said prisoners should be treated with dignity and their rights observed.
“We should not condemn them and move away from derogatory statements like ‘may he rot in jail’,” she said.