DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chipata
IMMATES at Namuseche Correctional Centre in Chipata district ululate behind bars as Government opens a K2 million modern health facility in what was seen as a World AIDS Day gift.
Given the high disease burden in correctional centres, inmates jubilate because the heath facility in their precincts will give them unhindered access to medical services and thereby improve their health.
Prisoners are not spared from common diseases in Zambia such as malaria, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, diabetes, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The clinic at Namuseche Correctional Centre will among other health services offer anti-retroviral therapy (ART), maternal and child health services to inmates and people within the community.
The clinic has about 10, 000 people in its catchment area, whereas Namuseche Correctional Centre had about 1000 inmates when the clinic was being opened.
The prisonersâ€™ celebration when Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo opened the clinic at Namuseche Correctional Centre gave credence to sentiments by the Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) that public health is threatened when prisoners suffer poor health.
A 2010 report by PRISCCA in partnership with Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Human Rights Watch indicates that poor health in prisons has a spiral effect on public health.
The report states that diseased prisoners return to the community carrying infectious diseases and a chain reaction of infection and reinfection occurs.
Therefore, the opening of the clinic for inmates in Chipata indicates Governmentâ€™s commitment to zero rate the spread of HIV/AIDS, whose efforts require providing treatment to HIV positive persons.
The health facility which was funded by the United States Presidentâ€™s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), will cater for inmates at Namuseche Correctional Centre as well as people living in nearby communities.
The Home Affairs Minister, Mr Kampyongo opened the clinic on December 1, 2006, the World AIDS Day.
â€œThis facility cost the American people K2 millionâ€¦ we cannot boast of having shifted from the punitive to correctional approach towards work without proper and modern health infrastructure and equipment,â€ he said.
Mr Kampyongo appealed to PEPFAR to consider putting up a similar facility at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe which has over 4,000 inmates.
He urged the Ministry of Health and Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) to ensure that the facility is not vandalised.
He said the opening up of a healthcare facility for inmates on World AIDS Day, signifies the policy shift from merely providing custodial services to prisoners to rehabilitating them and that this requires looking after their health.
He said ZCS currently has only 75 qualified medical personel against the ever increasing inmate-population which currently stands at 20,000 countrywide.
â€œI am also aware of the shortage of health facilities with the service currently relying on only 24 facilities dotted in some selected correctional facilities,â€ he said.
And Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu said the clinic, which was built at a cost of K 2 million, will not only cater for inmates but residents in surrounding areas.
Mr Zulu said Government is committed to improving the health of citizens hence, the construction of the clinic at the correctional centre.
An elated ZCS commissioner general Percy Chato commended PEPFAR for fulfilling its pledge made in 2012.
Mr Chato called on inmates, ZCS staff and their families to join hands in the fight against HIV.
He said Zambia is determined to achieve zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero HIV and AIDS.
At the same event, Eastern Province medical officer Abel Kabalo was happy with the declining HIV prevalence in the region, currently standing at 9. 3 percent from 10. 3 percent previously.
Dr Kabalo said the total cumulative figure for adults on ART in the province is 62, 387 and 4, 138 for children.
He said the opening of the new health facility will improve the health of inmates health and community residents. Dr Kabaso also hopes that the provision of ART services to more people in need will reduce the HIV prevalence rate further.
As many flocked to witness the official opening of the clinic, they were reminded of the main ways in which HIV/AIDS is transmitted – sexual contact, significant exposure to infected body fluids or tissues, and from mother-to-child during pregnancy, during childbirth, or through breastfeeding.
Inmates also followed the proceedings amid tight security in their confinement at Namuseche Correctional Centre. Interludes of ulutation and clapping of hands indicated that the inmates appreciate the benefits of having a clinic nearby.
And as many residents and organisations flocked to Namuseche to witness the opening of the new health inmate facility, the event underscored efforts by world leaders to stop HIV and AIDS.
In 2000, Heads of State and Government and representatives from 189 countries made an unprecedented commitment in the United Nations Millennium Declaration to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic by 2015 in communities, including correctional facilities.
At the 2005 World Summit and the 2006 United National (UN) High Level Meeting on AIDS, world leaders again committed â€œto pursuing all necessary efforts … towards the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.â€
Global figures shows that at the end of 2008, an estimated 33.4 million people were living with HIV and in that year, 2.7 million new HIV infections occurred throughout the world. At any given time, there are over 10 million people held in detention centres worldwide, and more than half are in pre-trial detention.
And reverting to the Namuseche clinic – as government officials, PEPFAR and other partners graced the occasion and talked of the need to improve the health of inmates, the Namuseche Correctional Centre choir, clad in orange T-shirts, was on hand to provide entertainment.
The choir was allowed to witness the opening of the clinic and they sang with joy while other jailbirds were only heard ululating from their confinement.
The event was indeed a culmination of global efforts to halt and reverse the HIV pandemic.
DARLINGTON MWENDABAI, Chipata