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UNODC assists on health and HIV prevention and treatment in Cambodia prisons

Phnom Pehn (Cambodia), 8 March 2012
- A recently signed UNODC agreement with the Government of Cambodia will contribute to improved prisoner access to health, HIV, STI and TB services.

The HIV epidemic in Cambodia remains concentrated in most-at-risk populations, including entertainment workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and in prison settings. In prisons, NGO estimates claim that HIV is approximately four to nine times higher than in the general population, with women particularly affected.

Signed by Mr. Kuy Bun Sorn, Director General of the General Department of Prisons, Ministry of Interior, Royal Government of Cambodia, and Mr. Olivier Lermet, Country Manager, UNODC Cambodia, the letter of agreement sets out the terms for a second pilot project to improve inmate access to health in prison settings, with a focus on HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) prevention, treatment and care.

Acknowledging noteworthy results achieved in 2011 by the General Department of Prisons, including a reduction in the number of total deaths in prisons and an initial government response to address overcrowding, UNODC's Mr. Olivier Lermet urged them to do more.

"We welcome the fact that some of those incarcerated for drug use are released back to the community where they can receive the interventions and treatment they need," said Mr. Lermet. "While these achievements have not been insignificant, more work needs to be done. UNODC welcomes the prospective increase of 250 additional staff in the General Department of Prisons including an increase in medical personnel, which would improve prisoner access to medical treatment and care."

The project, funded by the UNAIDS Project Acceleration Fund (PAF), will assist the General Department of Prisons to develop a coordinated, efficient approach to providing health, HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), and Tuberculosis (TB) services in prison settings. It will also facilitate the development of a national strategy to address health, HIV, STI and TB in prison settings.

Under the agreement, a technical working group on health in prisons with a focus on HIV and TB has been formed and is operational. In cooperation with other partners, UNODC also assists with the development and implementation of a national training programme for prison health staff, and supports the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures on HIV, STI and HIV-TB in eight initial prisons including a women's facility. The Government intends to re-program USD 200,000 from current Global Fund Single Stream Funding to support this work. Following the first phase of implemention in the eight demonstration sites, it is expected that the Standard Operating Procedures will be scaled up to all prisons nationwide.

The objective of the Standard Operational Procedures is to improve the physical and mental health of prisoners and strengthen the health care system in Cambodian prisons.

The Standard Operational Procedures were developed by the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STI (NCHADS) and the General Department of Prisons, together with partners including Catholic Relief Services, Family Health International (FHI), UNODC, UNAIDS, Caritas and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Royal Government has endorsed the UNAIDS Getting to Zero 2011-2015 Strategy and is committed to addressing gaps in Cambodia's HIV responses. Its endorsement of the UNODC-executed Project Acceleration Fund (PAF) project on HIV in prisons is a significant step in addressing these gaps.

UNODC globally and regionally works to increase access to quality HIV prevention, treatment and care services for people who inject drugs or who are in prison or correctional settings. UNODC in Cambodia assists the Government to increase access to HIV and TB services in prison settings and for injecting drug users. UNODC, in partnership with other sister agencies like UNAIDS, OHCHR and notably WHO, currently undertaking the Health in Prison Needs Assessment that will inform the upcoming national strategy .

Since 2010, a community-based drug dependence treatment programme is also being piloted in eight remote communities of the Banteay Meanchey province as an alternative to compulsory centres for drug users (CCDUs). Cambodia's Community-Based Drug Treatment program provides drug users with voluntary, cost-effective, rights-based and sustainable drug treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration services that include counseling, self-help and harm-minimization education in the community where people who use drugs live.