CND Side Event: Prevention, Treatment and Care of HIV and Other Related Infections Among People Who Use Drugs in Prisons and Upon Release

13 April 2021 – Vienna, Austria – As part of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UNODC HIV/AIDS Section co-sponsored a side event on ‘Prevention, Treatment and Care of HIV and Other Related Infections Among People Who Use Drugs in Prisons and Upon Release’, which focused on showcasing effective measures and good practices in prison settings. 

The event was organized by the Kyrgyz Republic and co-sponsored by the Republic of Moldova and Switzerland the UNODC HIV/AIDS Section, and was moderated by Mrs. Ainura Esenamanova, the Project Coordinator of the Republican Center of Narcology of the Kyrgyz Republic’s Ministry of Health. The event attracted 146 participants from 44 countries.

In her opening remarks, Fariba Soltani, the Chief of the UNODC HIV/AIDS Section and Global Coordinator for HIV/AIDS, reminded all participants of the ongoing urgency to address the HIV epidemic in prison environments, which are particularly conducive to the spread of HIV and other infections including COVID-19. Ms Soltani noted that many countries’ control measures and health services in prisons remain inadequate, and that it is essential to bring prisons around the world in compliance with the UN standards and guidelines. To achieve this, UNODC, WHO, ILO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, and UNDP jointly published the updated Comprehensive Package of Interventions, which contains fifteen key interventions that are essential for an effective response to HIV and other health issues within prisons and other closed settings.

Mr. Alexandru Simionov, Counselor and Charge d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Moldova to the UN, highlighted the ongoing issue of the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in prisons, and emphasized the importance of providing quality health services for people who use drugs in prisons, who are particularly vulnerable to multiple health threats.

The experience of Kyrgyzstan was showcased by Ms. Usenakunova Aizada, Narcologist and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the Republican Center of Narcology of the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic. In her presentation, she highlighted the positive experience of Kyrgyzstan’s approach to HIV and injection drug use in prisons since 2007. Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST), needle & syringe programmes, and testing and care for HIV and other infectious diseases are offered confidentially in penitentiary institutions across the country. However, COVID-19 is an ongoing challenge for existing programmes, due to restriction measures.

Prof. Hans Wolff, Professor of Medicine at Geneva University and the Head of the Division of Prison Health at the Geneva University Hospitals, talked about Geneva’s approach to providing prison health services. Equity of care and independence of health services in prisons are the foundation to Geneva’s prison approach, so are the adherence to the fifteen key interventions of the Comprehensive Package. OST is a particularly powerful tool to prevent the spread of bloodborne infections, such as HIV and viral Hepatitis. Prof. Wolff highlighted that access to HIV prevention and treatment is a human right, which must be granted through an evidence-based approach, via easy access to effective programmes and throughcare.

Representing Moldova’s experience in harm reduction and e-Justice in prisons was Irina Barbiros, the Head of the Medical Unit of the Prisons Administration of the Minstiry of Justice of the Republic of Moldova. Moldova started implementation of harm reduction services in 1999 and successfully implemented all fifteen key interventions of the Comprehensive Package. Moldova has received UNODC assistance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuity of harm reduction programmes, including HIV testing and treatment, and OST. Furthermore, e-Justice rooms were established recently, which are isolated cabins with teleconferencing equipment, in which people in prison can attend court hearings, get in touch with their relatives, and even make use of online education.

Finally, Ehab Salah, Adviser to Prisons and HIV and UNAIDS Focal Point at the UNODC HIV/AIDS Section, gave an overview of the current situation of HIV/AIDS in prisons and the UN’s commitment to tackling the existing challenges, at the centre of which lies the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which includes the aim of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. It is crucial for all countries to adhere to international standards, such as the Nelson Mandela Rules, which include guidelines on access to HIV services in prisons, and the Bangkok Rules, which specify the necessary treatment of women in prisons, including HIV interventions and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in prisons. The recently adopted Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026 is providing a powerful tool to address inequalities to end AIDS with focus on key populations including people in prisons and other closed settings.