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VSO/Cynthia R Matonhodze

Improving access to HIV and health services for prisoners in southern Africa

Promoting human rights and health in prisons

Yearly, over 30 million men and women spend time in prisons and other closed settings. Virtually all of them will return to their communities, many within a few months to a year.

Globally, the prevalence of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis B and C and tuberculosis in prison populations is 2 to 10 times as high, and in some cases may be up to 50 times as high, as in the general population. Health services provided in prisons settings are often substandard and under-funded, characterized by shortage of staff and of essential medications.

VSO volunteer Tokozile Dhodho in Zimbabwe ©VSO/Heather Alcock
“We can’t say we’ll end HIV, without ending HIV within prisons. We need to take a holistic approach, since prisoners will go back to the community and will be part of community."

Tokozile Dhodho, volunteer with Batanai HIV service organisation supporting VSO's prisons project

Working with prison populations

VSO’s Regional HIV and AIDS Programme in Southern Africa (RHAISA), in partnership with UNODC, is working across Southern Africa to promote access to health services and address the challenges of healthcare provision in prison settings.

The programme aims to improve access and quality of health and HIV and AIDS services in prison population, lobby governments, Prisons and Correctional Facilities to adopt and implement policies on health reform in line with South African Development Community minimum standards.

The programme works at all levels of the prisons system, especially with the prisoners to ensure that they are aware of their right to health. Through volunteer placements, VSO focuses on capacity building of Prisons and Correctional Facilities, and partner organisations. It also coordinates the Southern African Regional Prisons network.

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