India: HIV testing and counseling reaches prison's doorstep

Mobile ICTC (Integrated Counseling and Testing Centre) launched in Aizawl Central Jail, Mizoram

Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, one of the eight North Eastern States of India, took an important step towards HIV prevention in prisons by starting a mobile ICTC (Integrated Counseling and Testing Centre) in the prison complex. An ICTC is a site where a person is counseled and tested for HIV, on a voluntary basis or as advised by a medical practitioner. The main functions of an ICTC are conducting HIV diagnostic tests, providing information on the modes of HIV transmission, promoting behavioral change to reduce vulnerability and linking people with services for the prevention, care and treatment of HIV.

Last 26 October, the service was launched in the Aizawl Central Jail thus making it the ever-first prison in Mizoram to have in-house ICTC services.  It is the result of a joint initiative by the Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS), the Government of Mizoram, UNODC and SHALOM (The Society for HIV/AIDS Lifeline Operation Mizoram). Inaugurating the centre, Dr. C. Zothankhuma, Deputy Director, MSACS highlighted that "this is the first time a mobile ICTC has reached prison settings in Mizoram and on behalf of the Mizoram State AIDS Control Society, I extend my whole-hearted support to this very important initiative".

Before the mobile ICTC reached the prison, inmates who needed counseling had to be escorted by prison staff to the government hospital, some 10 kms away driving on narrow winding roads. Many of them would not want to visit the hospital, as they feared being seen and recognized by relatives, friends and community members there. The mobile ICTC makes it more comfortable for them to undergo testing without facing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the prison authorities have allotted a separate room for testing within the prison complex itself. Operated by the MSACS, the mobile ICTC includes a lab technician and three counsellors - two from the MSACS and one from SHALOM, the NGO partner in UNODC's prison project. As of now, MSACS will send the team to the prison as and when the ICTC services are required.

Joining the inaugural celebrations at the prison, Mr Vanlalmuana, President, Positive Network of Mizoram, an NGO, shared with the inmates his thoughts and experiences about positive living for people living with HIV. He facilitated the group education cum pre-test counselling on HIV/AIDS amongst the 74 inmates, who after that had volunteered for testing. The inmates were happy and relieved that the testing facilities had come to their doorstep. However, when the time came for the actual test, there was a lot of anxiety about receiving the results. Six inmates were diagnosed with HIV and will now be attended by SHALOM for respective services.

The launch of the mobile ICTC marks an important milestone for the Mizoram Government's HIV prevention initiatives in prisons, since HIV counselling and testing are a key entry point for prevention, treatment and care of HIV/AIDS. According to latest estimates, there are 1256 prisoners living across 6 prisons in Mizoram. The Aizawl Central Jail alone has the capacity to house 410 inmates, whereas it currently has more than 500 inmates, of whom nearly forty eight percent of them are Injecting Drug Users (IDUs). In the light of overcrowding and drug use-HIV related vulnerabilities, there is a vital need for HIV prevention services in prisons to ensure the inmates' rights to equity and health care.

This commendable initiative taken by the Mizoram State Government sets the stage to take forward the continuum of care for the inmates, together with suitable components from the comprehensive package of HIV prevention services, which is a clear expression of respect for the human rights of the prisoners. UNODC hopes that the Mizoram model will encourage even other states to follow this example!

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

For more information on UNODC'S project in Mizoram's prisons, please refer to our previous web story Mizoram, India: making HIV prevention and care a reality in prisons

To read UNODC publications related to the above topic, please click on the following links:

Policy Brief: HIV testing and counselling in prisons and other closed settings (pdf)

Technical paper for HIV testing and counselling in prisons and other closed settings (pdf)