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Inmates on anti-retroviral therapy at risk

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By Mandy Pondani:

Lives of 2,274 inmates who are on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in the country’s prisons are at risk due to Malawi Prison Services’ (MPS) failure to give the prisoners special diet and food supplements necessary for people on such treatment.

MPS spokesperson, Chimwemwe Shaba, admitted that they do not provide special diet to inmates on ART, let alone food supplements.

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However, Shaba said there are efforts such as Test and Treat Initiative that have reduced challenges which MPS faced when caring for chronically ill prisoners living with HIV.

[The] government is already making good efforts to make sure that farming is improved in prisons so that prisons should produce enough to feed prisoners,” Shaba said.

An official at Mzuzu Prison admitted that lives of 115 prisoners, who are on ART, are at risk.

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“The food that we give inmates does not meet the nutritional requirements for those on ART. The nutritional deficiency makes them susceptible to other illnesses, considering that their immune system is already threatened,” he said.

He also bemoaned the shortage of health personnel in the country’s prisons, saying this compromises the provision of healthcare services rendered to inmates who are ill.

“We have a dispensary with just one health officer and three others catering for HTC and LightHouse. So you will appreciate that the number does not tally with the population they serve in general, let alone the number of those on ARTs,” he said.

Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Executive Director, Victor Mhango, has since decried the situation in prisons.

He, however, gave a measured response to the matter because CHREAA and other stakeholders are challenging the matter in court.

Asked why the Ministry of Health has no provision for special diet for inmates on ART, spokesperson Joshua Malango said: “Nutrition supplies are for treatment and management of acute malnutrition [and] not for general distribution. If a prisoner is malnourished, they are given [food supplements] if they meet the criteria.”

The Daily Times has also established that sometimes inmates who are ill walk to Mzuzu Central Hospital, due to transport challenges at the prison.

But Shaba refused to comment on the transport challenges.

He, however, said plans are underway to construct and renovate health infrastructure in prison facilities and ensuring constant supply of drugs.

The challenges which the prisoners on ART face could see Malawi fail to achieve the 90-90-90 target of eliminating HIV and Aids by the year 2020.

Health rights activists say the development is a violation of the rights of the affected prisoners, adding that there is need for universal compliance to minimum regulations.

However, it is on record that two percent of prisons’ funding is allocated to prisoners on ART, yet the authorities continue to give a blind eye to inmates living with HIV and on treatment.

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