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International News

South Africa Prisons Face Huge AIDS Challenge -- Study

February 19, 2003

South Africa's overburdened prisons face a huge AIDS challenge, with an estimated 41 percent of inmates infected with HIV and limited strategies to fight its spread, a study released on Tuesday said.

Research presented by the independent Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria pointed to a new AIDS disaster unfolding in the country's prisons, where about 180,000 people are held at any given time. "Prison health is public health," said researcher K.C. Goyer, noting that thousands of discharged prisoners return to society every month -- bringing infections with them. "Prisoners come from communities which have limited access to public health services, and these are the same communities to which they return."

South Africa has never conducted a full study of HIV prevalence in its prisons. Nationally, an estimated 5 million South Africans are infected with HIV, or about 20 percent of the total population.

Since 1995, reported cases of HIV/AIDS in South African prisons have jumped by 750 percent, albeit from a low baseline. Natural deaths in prison have surged by about 600 percent over the same period, and now stand at more than 6 per 1,000 prisoners. Most of these are believed to be AIDS-related, largely from TB. Goyer estimated the real HIV prevalence rate of about 41.5 percent, with that likely to rise even further in coming years.

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K.M. Mabena, acting director of medical services for the Department of Corrections, said officials were coming to grips with the problem by improving prisoner access to condoms, counseling, testing and treatment. But Mabena conceded the problem was daunting -- particularly given South Africa's controversial government policy of discouraging use of antiretroviral drugs in the public sector. "The policy emphasizes early release of the terminally ill," Mabena told an ISS seminar. "Those who are fortunate are being returned home to die."

Back to other CDC news for February 19, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Reuters
02.18.03; Andrew Quinn



  
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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.
 

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