Australia: Prisoners Sharing More Than Dirty Needles
December 13, 2005
The recent National Prison Entrants' Blood-Borne Virus Survey found that 34 percent of Australian prisoners are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), compared to 1 percent of the general community. The report showed that 56 percent of injecting drug users in Australian prisons are HCV-infected. In Victoria, Australia's worst-affected state, HCV infects, on average, 58 percent of prisoners.
In 2001, the Australian National Council on Drugs recommended that immediate trial needle exchange programs (NEPs) be implemented in both adult and juvenile prisons. ANCD argues that NEPs would not only reduce HCV but also prevent cases of HIV.
While the Australian Capital Territory's health minister recently expressed support for a pilot exchange in a new jail to be built over the next few years, New South Wales is unlikely to consider such an option. "The consistent answer is no," said a NSW spokesperson.
NSW's stance stems from the 1990 stabbing of a prison officer at Sydney's Long Bay jail. While escorting an HIV-positive prisoner into the exercise yard, the guard was stabbed with a needle full of contaminated blood. Five weeks later, he was diagnosed with HIV. He died in 1997.
Though the stabbing was "very tragic and regrettable," National Hepatitis C Council spokesperson Stuart Loveday said it happened "under the exact same system that now currently exists within NSW prisons." "And that is an unofficial, illegal and highly dangerous needle exchange system," he said.
According to Loveday, another group would gain from legal NEPs: the wider community. The majority of prisoners are incarcerated for less than six months, and many become involved in drugs for the first time while in jail, he noted. "We need to break that bridge of infection between the prison community and general community," said Loveday.
Australian Associated Press
12.08.05; Amy Fallon
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.