HIV convicts freed to die

18 June 2013 - 02:01 By DENISE WILLIAMS
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

HIV-positive inmates released from prison are handed a virtual death sentence - there is no obligation on the Department of Correctional Services to ensure that they continue to receive, and take, medication.

This worrying admission was made to parliament's joint standing committee on HIV and Aids last week.

The department also said that 100 babies of women prisoners, who might have contracted HIV, were not receiving life-saving treatment.

Briefing the committee, the department's director of health care services, Maria Mabena, said 21000 of the 152000 prison population had tested positive for HIV.

The department's admission that, though counselling is offered and information on referral clinics provided, there was no guarantee that prisoners would receive treatment once released, equates to a death sentence for many.

"There is a discharge plan." He said one of several plans was for released inmates to make an appointment for specialist treatment.

"We also issue a referral letter to the nearest clinic and the prisoners are given a month's prescription. But after that there is a gap, we don't know if they went [to the clinic].

"When they don't go, [the spread of HIV/Aids] would be exacerbated," Mabena said.

The department said that it could not test a child for HIV without the mother's consent.

"[Of] 100 babies, none is on prevention of mother-to-child transmission treatment. They [the babies] might have it [HIV] but they have not been tested because we do not force them [the mothers].

''There are women who do not go to the clinics. Testing is not mandatory," she said.

Oversight committee co-chairman Bevan Goqwana said it was troubling that there was a fatal lapse in the treatment plan.

"The way the health department is working with correctional services, it needs to be enforced. We will be writing to both.

"Getting a treatment for a month and there's nothing after that? There are serious problems," he said.

He said often people did not persevere with their treatment because they felt better, or, in many instances, could not pay for the medicines or afford to travel to a clinic.

"When you don't have treatment and you have not been referred properly to a particular place and you don't have money ... you are going to stop your treatment and start vagabonding and infecting other people," he said.

Yogan Pillay, the Health Department's deputy director-general for strategic health programmes, acknowledged that his department's working relationship with Correctional Services should be strengthened.

"I would say that there are people who are falling through the gaps," he said.

Pillay said a mother's consent was necessary before a child could be tested for HIV.

"We don't routinely test any child ... The idea is for parents to trust us and, if they think [the child might have HIV], to get the child tested.

"Most moms will do the best they can for their kids," he said.