The Sunday Mail
The current World AIDS Campaign: Know Your Status has been taken to the country’s prisons where inmates are being given information on Sexual and Reproductive Health, HIV and AIDS, TB, Sexually Transmitted Infections and other related conditions.
The National AIDS Council and its strategic partners are running a vibrant peer education programme to sensitise and support the peer educators on these conditions.
This will enable them to share information with fellow inmates and this information can be used in prison and after their release. Education on drug and alcohol abuse is given to young offenders under this programme. Inmates are also getting HIV testing and counselling services as well as TB screening.
Peer education is one of the important interventions in HIV and AIDS programming. Whawha Medium Prison is one of the prisons that has benefitted from this programme. The prison houses about 1 500 inmates of varied age groups, while the young offenders section accommodates about 300 inmates most of whom are adolescents below the age of 24. Peer Educators get into peer education voluntarily through commitment and passion.
They assist the health services department by identification of peers with health problems and refer them to the Health Care Workers and Counsellors. They also assist peers with treatment adherence issues as well as helping those who need home based care.
Peer educators report that there has been an increase in inmates who present themselves for HIV testing since this programme was rolled out. Those that tested HIV positive were initiated on ART.
Commenting on the programme, NAC’s District AIDS Coordinator for Vungu District, Sukholuhle Sibanda said that the programme had been well received by both inmates and prison officials.
“We do have a team of dedicated peer educators. After training we give them tests and their scores are usually very high signifying that learning would have taken place,” she said.
David Bhusvumani one of the peer educators at Whawha said that a lot of new HIV positive inmates default treatment between the day of arrest and incarceration.
“One can be arrested without his medication. It is difficult to tell the police that I need to go and get my medication first before you detain me. One only gets medication when they are brought to prison, if they open up about their status,” he said.
Simbarashe Dube, another inmate said while the programme was commendable, inmates need psycho-social support especially from their families as the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) or NAC can never take the place of one’s family.
He also mentioned that upon admission into prison, most people are so miserable that they feel that life is no longer worth living and either do not disclose their HIV status or get their medication but do not take it. “As peer educators we counsel them and tell them that we have families to go back to, and this has worked,” said Dube.
The health department at Whawha pleaded with corporates to assist prisons with items such as blankets as those that are living with HIV at times feel cold. They also pleaded for medication for other opportunistic infections that inmates may suffer from.
ZPCS Chief Correctional Officer, Clifford Mafuta commended NAC for the programme.
“Much as we try to reach out to inmates, there is that barrier which only their peers can break. Our HIV interventions in prisons have been made a lot easier by this programme,” he said.
NAC’s Provincial Manager for Midlands, Shumba Mambewu said that NAC is not leaving anyone behind in the response to HIV.
“We do have a considerable number of inmates who are HIV positive, they need to be put on treatment. We have some who do not even know their status.
“They must know their status so that those who need to be put on Anti-retroviral therapy are initiated.”
Mr Mambewu added that inmates were also being screened for TB and all this is done to reduce morbidity and mortality due to HIV and TB.
One does not have to be HIV positive to be a peer educator.