Improving African justice systems essential to prevent spread of HIV and TB in prisons

May 8, 2012

In order to reduce HIV and TB in African prisons, African governments and international health donors should fund criminal justice reforms, experts from Human Rights Watch say in this week's PLoS Medicine.

"Overcrowding is driving HIV and TB transmission in African prisons, and alleviating overcrowding by increasing the availability of non-custodial alternatives including community service and bail and improving access to legal representation should be understood as essential public health measures for HIV and TB prevention and control," say Joseph Amon and Katherine Todrys from the international organisation.

Rates of HIV and tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa are many times higher in than in non-prison populations, due in part to overcrowding and a lack of adequate prevention and treatment services in the prisons. Almost all prisoners eventually leave prison and, along with visitors and prison officers, represent a potential bridge for between prison and community populations.

"Thousands of individuals are detained in African prisons unjustly and unnecessarily, including spending long periods in pretrial detention, because of weak criminal justice systems," the authors say. That contributes to the overcrowding that leads to the spread of the diseases.

The authors reached these conclusions by surveying prison commissioners and in 10 East and Southern African countries with high HIV and TB rates. They also conducted in-depth interviews with prison officials and hundreds of prisoners in Zambia and Uganda and heard many distressing accounts of dire conditions and extreme delays in sentencing, trials, and appeals. One man in a Zambian prison had been held for three years before he first saw a judge.

Furthermore, international human rights law requires countries to maintain adequate prison conditions and provide a minimum level of health care equivalent to that available to the general population. But the authors found significant gaps in the availability of HIV- and TB-related prevention and care.

The authors conclude: "Both increased resources for health, as well as structural interventions addressing failures, are necessary to address HIV and TB and advance prisoner and public health. African governments have a responsibility to address the life-threatening conditions in prisons, which are contrary to international law and standards, and to improve prisoners' access to justice."

More information: Todrys KW, Amon JJ (2012) Criminal Justice Reform as HIV and TB Prevention in African Prisons. PLoS Med 9(5): e1001215. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001215

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The 'love hormone' may quiet tinnitus

September 23, 2016

(HealthDay)—People suffering from chronic ringing in the ears—called tinnitus—may find some relief by spraying the hormone oxytocin in their nose, a small initial study by Brazilian researchers suggests.

Bile acid uptake inhibitor prevents NASH / fatty liver in mice

September 21, 2016

Drugs that interfere with bile acid recycling can prevent several aspects of NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) in mice fed a high-fat diet, scientists from Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of ...

New therapeutic target for Crohn's disease

September 20, 2016

Research from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies a promising new target for future drugs to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study, published today in Cell Reports, also indicates ...

Mosquitoes, Zika and biotech regulation

September 19, 2016

In a new Policy Forum article in Science, NC State professor Jennifer Kuzma argues that federal authorities are missing an opportunity to revise outdated regulatory processes not fit for modern innovations in biotechnology, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.