UNODC Joins National Dialogue on the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV calling for Increased Efforts to Address the Needs of Women in Correctional Institutions and Women Injecting Drugs

Abuja 4 May 2021: Today United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC joined the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Gambo Aliyu and other high ranking representatives of Government, various United Nations agencies and the NGO community for the National Dialogue on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV in Nigeria.

The dialogue provides, among others, a unique opportunity to recall and further reflect on the 2018 survey of HIV/AIDS in prison conducted by NACA, the Nigeria Correctional Service and the Federal Ministry of Health with the joint support of UNODC, UNAIDS, USAID. The findings showed that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among persons in custodial centres was 2.8% about twice as high as among the general population. The study further showed that HIV prevalence among the approximately 1000 women in correctional facilities with 6.9% was dramatically higher than that among male inmates (2.7%).

Moreover, in 2018 the National Bureau of Statistics with the support of UNODC conducted the first every comprehensive national drug use survey in Nigeria. According to this study, there are approximately 3.4 million women who used drugs at least once in 2017/2018 and approximately 18,000 female injecting drug users. The report also found that women were more likely to inject daily and were more likely to share needles and syringes. With a relatively young mean age of initiation of drug use (e.g. heroin use was 22 years), a high number of sexual partners, and regular unprotected sexual intercourse, women who inject drugs are highly vulnerable to HIV infections and transmission, including mother to child transmission. Moreover, a significant proportion of female sex workers use or inject drugs, thereby increasing their risk of HIV infection and transmission.

According to UNAIDS, key populations (including people who inject drugs and prisoners and other incarcerated people) accounted for a quarter of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016. In particular, in countries like Nigeria that have been able to record significant successes in HIV/AIDS control and prevention in the general population, so-called key populations, including people in custodial and other closed settings and people who inject drugs, are increasingly becoming the main source for the continued spread of the virus and require a far more focused approach to prevention, treatment and care, including reliable access to treatment, needle and syringe exchange programmes, access to condoms, and, of course, all interventions aimed specifically to prevent Mother-To-Child transmission. Special attention should be given to pregnant women and mothers in custodial centres and other closed settings as well as those who inject drugs in line with the resolutions of the 26th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and that of the 61st session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, most prominently resolution 61/4 on “Promoting measures for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis among women who use drugs”.

In order to address this challenge, UNODC developed respective training materials for prison services and organized jointly with the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) training on the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission in custodial centres. Furthermore, UNODC continues to provide technical support to the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Agency for the Control of Aids and the Nigeria Correctional Service in the development of the National Care and Referral Model for HIV and other Health Conditions in Custodial Centres, which also covers the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission.

Addressing HIV in prisons and other closed settings cannot be separated from wider questions of human rights and of criminal justice reform. According to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Nelson Mandela rules), prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge and without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status. Moreover, health-care services should be organized in close relationship to the general public health administration and in a way that ensures continuity of treatment and care, including for HIV prevention, treatment and care. In short, access to relevant interventions to prevent Mother-To-Child Transmission is a fundamental human right of women and their children in custodial settings and it is our collective obligation to protect this right.