HIV prevention and health promotion in prisons
‘Good prison health is good public health’ is a principle that guides AFEW’s prison programming throughout the vast penal systems across the region.
AFEW works together with ministries of justice, prison health experts, prison administrations, medical and non-medical staff, inmates and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to build local capacity and ensure that people living within prison facilities have the same access to information and quality services as those living outside prison walls.
AFEW’s activities related to improving responses to HIV in the prison system span the continuum of prevention, treatment, care, and support. Our efforts range from curricula development involving high-level working groups (AFEW is a permanent member and representative of the Steering Committee for the WHO Health in Prisons Project - HIPP) and professional education, peer counselling, and education among inmates. We also conduct distribution of informational and prevention materials, and the introduction of discharge planning and transitional client management as a means to ensure that individuals are linked to appropriate services once they are released and back in the community.
AFEW is also largely involved in prison healthcare advocacy on the international level. In July of 2012 we presented our prison projects at the XIX International AIDS Conference. Together with Health through Walls – a U.S.-based non-profit and AFEW’s partner in the Prisoner Networking Zone of the Global Village – we managed to create a real prison bar Photobooth where visitors could have their picture taken while holding various messages related to prison healthcare. Over 500 people visited the Zone to take their pictures with messages behind bars. The idea behind this Photobooth was to attract people to AFEW’s Facebook page then find their pictures, tag themselves and share the photo with their friends thus creating an online awareness campaign.
AFEW also held two workshops on transitional client management and cooperation between NGOs and penal departments. We highlighted that in some countries penal authorities deny the existence of drug use and homosexual relations inside prisons and therefore reject harm reduction programmes like needle exchange and condom distribution.
We advocated for a larger involvement of NGOs in prison healthcare programmes, in fact for a greater access of NGOs into prisons, especially in Central Asian countries, and called upon bringing healthcare services in prisons to the general standards of the state healthcare.
At the presentation about prison health we told about the general situation in prisons of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and shared our activities within prison projects. We mentioned the needs of prisoners, especially the need of professional education so that prisoners could count on some work upon release, need of inside prison jobs so that prisoners could save some money before they are released. These wishes were drawn out of numerous letters AFEW receives from inmates across the region. Many prisoners mentioned the need of a temporary shelter upon release and improvement of basic sanitary conditions in prisons.