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Syphilis hits prisons

There is a high disease burden, including sexually transmitted infections(STIs) such as syphilis and HIV, in the country’s prisons, Malawi News can tell.

Centres for Disease Control website indicates that syphilis can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex.

It says the time between acquisition of syphilis and the start of the first symptom is 21 days, but can range from 10 to 90 days.

Findings of screening exercises Malawi News has seen indicate that, at Chichiri Prison, syphilis tests were done on 1, 880 inmates and 46 inmates were diagnosed positive.

At Kachere prison, 172 inmates were tested for syphilis, three tested positive and, of these, one was newly infected.

The mass screening exercises were done at Chichiri and Kachere prisons in May this year. The Malawi Prison department, with support from MSF, Management Sciences for Health Challenge Tuberculosis (TB) and district health offices, carried the exercises.

According to the findings, the inmates were screened for HIV, TB, syphilis, Hepatitis B vaccination and nutrition (Body Mass Index screening) between May 16 and 29, 2017.

It has also been established that, out of the 1, 344 inmates that were screened, (at Chichiri prison) 100 had HIV and 62 cases of them were newly infected.

Centre for Human Rights Education, Rehabilitation and Advice Executive Director, Victor Mhango, said there is a possibility that the inmates were

already infected at the time they were being imprisoned while admitting that chances are also high that they were infected while there.

“I think people should be screened at the time of imprisonment in case they have contagious diseases, so that they should be treated there and then. Government should also come out clearly on the issue of [the distribution of ] condoms in prisons,” Mhango said.

Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director, George Jobe, suspects that there could be a significant number of homosexuals in the country’s prisons.

“These reports should be a wakeup call on what is happening in our prisons. Remember that despite that these people were imprisoned for various reasons, they are entitled to the right to health, hence the need for screening,” Jobe said.

A report by Penal Reform International research on a research done by Dorothy Jolofani and Joseph DeGabriele, titled ‘HIV Transmission and Care of Prisoners’, says acts of homosexuality are rampant in the country’s prisons as evidenced by STI cases registered in prisons.

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