Peru: In Prison, a Little Health Care Goes a Long Way

TB and HIV/AIDS patients imprisoned at Peru's San Juan de Lurigancho, close to Lima, receive treatment at a prison health center. Built in 2006 by the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE), the $1 million center was financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Though the prison was built to hold 3,500 people, in 2008 it housed 10,000 prisoners. Today it has 6,000 and is one of the most crowded and dangerous in Latin America.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Global Fund provided $7 million to Peruvian projects, which included building prison health centers in Lurigancho and Tambopata, modernizing TB wards, improving health infrastructure in 12 prisons, and providing medical equipment to reduce infections.

"In Lurigancho prison today there are at least 420 tuberculosis patients and another 450 people diagnosed with AIDS, a much lower figure than in the previous years, thanks to having adequate infrastructure and trained personnel," said Dr. José Best, INPE's deputy director of health.

Still, the risk of "contracting TB in Lurigancho is 27 times higher than out on the street," said Henry Cotos, head of prisons for the Lima region. "We have managed to reduce the infection rates, but the figures are still worrying, mainly due to overcrowding."

The center also treats 28 patients with multidrug-resistant TB, and it has 20 isolation cells where infectious patients receive "a difficult and exhausting course of treatment," said Dr. María Elena Salas. "The reason these patients are kept in strict quarantine is so that they don't give up the treatment and don't infect other people."