UNODC supports the Government of Mozambique to address the health concerns of prisoners

credit "Photo: A. Scotti"5 May 2009 - Of the approximately 10 million men, women and children held in prison settings around the world, a staggering 668,000 are incarcerated in sub-Saharan Africa alone. With the region having the world's highest rates of HIV infections, prisons are a high-risk environment for the transmission of HIV, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases through unsafe drug use and unsafe sexual practices. Extreme prison overcrowding, inadequate nutritional provisions, poor health services, unsafe tattooing, blood rituals and violence are other causes.

The Ministry of Justice of Mozambique, in conjunction with UNODC, recently held a forum to address health concerns in prison settings. Focusing on the theme entitled "Good prison health is good public health", the seminar was part of the UNODC project on HIV and AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support in prison settings. Discussions centred on themes such as prisoners' right to health; HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections; tuberculosis; mental health; women's health; environmental health; and nutrition and/or food security.

UNODC played a key role in facilitating the seminar, at which it presented three papers: "The HIV Situation in Prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa" , based on the document HIV and Prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities for Action ; A Framework for an Effective National Response: HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings ; and Injecting Drug Use, which focused on the importance of establishing a comprehensive programme for injecting drug users in prison.

The two-day discussion concluded with recommendations on how to intensify prevention efforts (by, for example, ensuring access to prevention material like condoms and to information on preventing the vertical transmission of HIV for pregnant prisoners), promote antiretroviral therapy, increase knowledge on injecting drug use and other risk factors within prisons, and improve coordination between ministries of justice and health in the provision of health services.