UNODC hands over Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre to Zambia Prisons Service

Lusaka, 2 July 2014 - UNODC officially handed over the first Prison Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) Centre located at the Kabwe Maximum Prison Complex to the Zambian Prisons Service. The centre will provide quality services to close to 10,000 people. It services prisoners from the five groups of prisons at the Kabwe prison complex, prison staff and their families, as well as the surrounding rural community.

UNODC has been providing technical support to the Government of Zambia since 2008 as part of its Regional Programme on HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support in Prison Settings in Sub-Saharan Africa funded by the Swedish Government. The programme aims to address the needs of people living and working in prisons by promoting a comprehensive package of services. Following initial support provided through the Global Fund to establish the VCT Centre, UNODC therefore provided support to complete the structural refurbishment and provide medical equipment, including a CD4 Count Machine.

The official unveiling and handing over ceremony was generously officiated by Swedish Ambassador to Zambia, H.E. Lena Nordström. Ambassador Nordström said that reaching out to the prison population, a vulnerable group at high risk of contracting HIV, is an important aspect of lowering the incidence of HIV in Zambia.

Swedish Ambassor cuts ribbon to hand over VCT Centre to Zambian Prisons Service VCT Centre at Kabwe Prison Complex, Zambia CD4 Count Machines and PCs for VCT Centre
Ribbon Cutting (from left to right): Commissioner Chato, H.E. Ambassador Nordström, UNODC National Project Coordinator Nyambe
VCT Centre at Kabwe Prison Complex, Zambia
CD4 Count machines and PCs for VCT Centre

Globally the levels of HIV infection among prison populations are much higher than in the general population and therefore HIV and AIDS remain serious threats in many countries and present significant challenges for prison and public health authorities and national governments.

Sharon Lesa Nyambe, UNODC National Project Coordinator in Zambia, highlighted that the completion of the centre was the result of a fruitful partnership between UNODC, the Zambian Prisons Service and many other key actors, including civil society organisations, contributing to the HIV response in prison settings in Zambia. She further ensured the Zambian Prisons Service of UNODC's continued support to provide quality health services for prison populations and announced UNODC will assist to provide on-site training of prison lab technicians at the VCT centre and procure the initial consignment of PARTEC CD4 count machine reagents. UNODC also commended the Zambian Prisons Service for its commitment. Commissioner of the Zambian Prison Service, Percy Chato, highlighted the importance of VCT Centres in Prisons to reverse the HIV and AIDS epidemic in prisons.

A model in the region

The establishment of the Prison VCT Centre in Kabwe signifies an important milestone in the improving HIV prevention and care in prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa and is a good practice to be shared with other countries in the region. UNODC, with funding from the Swedish Government, is therefore planning to support the establishment of model prison health care centres in countries in Southern and Eastern Africa in the coming years.

HIV and TB prevalence much higher in prisons

Although UN and WHO international rules and standards state that the quality and level of health services in prisons must correspond to the same quality and standards of health services in the general community, correctional services are facing challenges in responding to the increased needs for health services for prison populations, i.e. increased TB prevalence due to overcrowding, absence of a segregation system for inmates under TB treatment and a lack of health assistance for communicable diseases that are considered curable, such as Malaria, diarrhoea etc.

In Zambia, although the national HIV sero-prevalence rate has now been reduced to 14.3%, a recent survey conducted in Zambian prisons showed that the epidemic in prisons is still at a very high level with 27.4% of prisoners testing positive for HIV (Simooya and Nawa, 2011). It is also important to note that the prevalence rate among female prisoners was recorded to be even higher than that among male prisoners.

Furthermore, a 2010 Human Rights Watch report showed that TB rates in Zambian prisons are 15-20 percent higher in the prisons than in the general population, with significant rates of drug resistance and multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). The general population has an already high TB burden of 387 cases per 100,000 members of the population, which currently stands at 13 million. (Human Rights Watch Report, 2010).

These dangerously high rates of HIV and TB require intensified preventive and treatment efforts in prison settings. Up to now, prisoners had to depend on mobile VCT services from faith based organizations.