Zambian Prisons: The dilemma of escalating HIV infections. Part I

Prisoners

Mukobeko Prison

I have seen people die in the night in the cell—there is nothing we can do, Nickson of Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison told our staffer Chimuka Moono Hanyama in an exclusive interview.

“We shout for someone, but the guards will say, “he is just playing sick, he wants to escape. Let us wait two or three days, and see how he will be.” And then he dies,” narrates Nickson.

And Dr. Chisela Chileshe adds, “If you are sent to Chimbokaila, It’s a death sentence. Not because they are afraid you will be given beatings, but because of TB.”

These are disturbing narrations! Zambian prisons are a death trap. When a relative is sentenced to a custodial sentence to one of these prisons, worry should creep in, as he or she may not come out whole. Some past months, a group of Parliamentarians who visited the Lusaka Prisons bemoaned the poor conditions inmates were subjected to.

One common thing in these prisons is the high prevalence of TB and HIV/AIDS infections. According to the report done by Human Rights Watch, ‘Unjust and Unhealthy
’, TB stood as the highest cause of deaths in prisons. Another astounding issue highlighted is the high rate of HIV/AIDS infections, which stood at 27 percent!

This brings us to one question: How is HIV transmitted in prisons? The answers are many and obvious, because HIV/AIDS is transmitted in many known ways, of which unprotected sex ranks highest. This is why a lasting solution should be found to save the lives of inmates.

“Sexual activity between male inmates is common, including both consensual sex between adults, and relationships where sex is traded by the most vulnerable in exchange for food, soap, and other basic necessities not provided by the prison. PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch also documented cases of rape between male prisoners. The total ban on condoms, however, in the context of common sexual activity and rape, creates a serious risk of HIV transmission and presents a major obstacle to HIV prevention,” reads the ‘Unjust and Unhealthy’ report.

Our society has been adamant to allow condoms be distributed in prisons! What is moral here, to allow the prisoners infect each other and the wider society when they are discharged or to simply give them condoms? The answer is obvious, but I will leave it to the reader.

What should be borne in our mind is that some of these inmates are merely held in these prisons awaiting trial, while others are mere suspects who are awaiting investigations. This means that some of these people are innocent. Very innocent, until proven guilty. Some of the inmates are victims of the ruthless society!

Let this issue of distributing condoms be addressed with level headedness. We know that Zambia is a Christian nation, but then Christianity should not be a danger to humanity.

If it becomes one, then it stops being a virtue. Conditions must be improved in the prisons. The government should provide enough food so that inmates stop selling sex for food. Courts should also consider giving community sentences as opposed to custodial sentences to avoid congestion.

We know offenders should receive retribution, but let it be humane because prisoners are human beings.