North-East India: HIV and AIDS prevention in prisons takes a significant stride

Comprehensive HIV prevention, care and support programme launched in Manipur Prison

The Government of Manipur, one of the eight North-Eastern States of India, joined the international community in the World AIDS Day celebrations on 1st December, by rolling out the State's first comprehensive HIV prevention, care and support programme at the Sajiwa Central Prison. Currently, the Sajiwa prison has 620 inmates, many of whom have been imprisoned for drug use related offences. According to the prison officials, the number of Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) in the prison could be more than 30%. The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), India, estimates that Manipur is one of the states with a high prevalence of HIV infection in the country. In view of this, the programme is of particular significance as prisons are general high-risk environments for HIV transmission resulting from a combination of factors, including overcrowding, poor nutrition, limited access to health care facilities, continued drug use and unsafe injecting practices.

The Governor of Manipur, Mr Gurbachan Jagat, launched the programme at the 1st Battalion Manipur Rifles ground in Manipur's capital city, Imphal. The Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr O Ibobi Singh and Mr N. Biren Singh, Hon'ble Minister, Irrigation and Flood Control Department /Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of Manipur were also present at the inaugural ceremony. They were joined by Mr V. Vumlunmang, Commissioner, Health & Family Welfare, Government of Manipur and President, Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS) and Mr Pradeep Kumar Jha, Project Director, MACS. Addressing the gathering, Mr Jagat called for a greater involvement of all stakeholders, particularly the civil society, in the fight against HIV/AIDS to safeguard the future of Manipur. He asserted that HIV/AIDS is no longer just a health concern, but an issue that impacts social, economic, legal, humanitarian and even political aspects of life. He also released the draft of the revised State AIDS Policy and handed over a vehicle which would serve as a mobile ICTC (Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre). Apart from providing voluntary HIV counseling and testing services for the community, the vehicle will also extend these services to the prison's inmates. Another the vehicle called "The Red Ribbon Express'' was also inaugurated, which will be used to disseminate information regarding HIV/AIDS.

The prison intervention programme will be implemented jointly between MACS, the State Department of Prisons, the Manipur  Network of Positive People (MNP+), in association with UNODC. With special emphasis on behavior change, the programme will introduce essential elements from the comprehensive package of HIV prevention services, including voluntary HIV counseling and testing, Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), prevention, diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis and advocacy for Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST). It will also focus on capacity building of prison officials, to facilitate better understanding and delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services in prison settings.

The initiative at the Sajiwa Central Prison marks a noteworthy beginning by the State Government to address HIV prevention for the inmates. It is envisaged that the intervention will gain firm ground in the State's prisons, thereby ensuring a continuum of care and reinforcement of human rights for the incarcerated population.

UNODC's work on HIV/AIDS prevention in prisons is possible thanks to the contribution of the Swedish Government.