IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Groups Call for Action on AIDS and Prisons

25th July 2002

Hepatitis C Crisis in Irish Prisons

Rates of HIV and Hepatitis C infection have reached epidemic levels among Irish prisoners, yet the response of the Irish Prisons Service falls well short of the guidelines set by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. It also lags far behind best practice established in other prison systems.  These are the conclusions of a new report to be released on Friday, July 26th

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in Irish Prisons - A Call for Action is a joint report of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and Merchants Quay Ireland.  Based upon the findings of Irish and international research, it outlines twenty-one recommendations towards implementing a comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in prisons.

"People in prison have a legal and ethical right to access health care at a level equivalent to that in the general community," says report author, Rick Lines.  "This standard is set out in international guidelines and, indeed, in the objectives of the Irish Prisons Service itself.  Yet Irish prisoners are denied access to basic HIV and Hepatitis C prevention measures.  Prisoners living with HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C face unnecessary barriers to accessing health services. This situation cannot continue, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency by Government."

Some of the reports key findings include

  • The rate of HIV infection among Irish prisoners is more than ten times higher than that in the general Irish population.
  • The rate of hepatitis C infection among Irish prisoners is more than 100 times higher than in the general Irish population.
  • High risk behaviours for the sexual and intravenous transmission of HIV and hepatitis C are wide spread in Irish prisons.
  • The current response of the Irish Prison Service to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C falls short of guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS, and is in violation of the spirit of Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchants Quay Ireland, argued that  "The National Drugs Strategy endorses the importance of harm reduction programmes, such as syringe exchange, in reducing the transmission of disease among injecting drug users.  Study after study - including work by Merchants Quay Ireland - has shown these programmes are both safe and effective.  With rates of HIV infection more than ten times higher in prisons than in the general population, we must ask on what basis can we deny prisoners access to these life saving health services?"

"The health of prisoners is an important issue of public health concern," says Dr. Valerie Bresnihan, Chair of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. "Everyone in the prison environment - whether they are prisoners, prison staff, or family members - benefits from enhancing the health of prisoners, and reducing the incidence of disease.  The high degree of mobility between prison and community also means that illnesses or health conditions developed or exacerbated in prison necessarily become community health issues when people are released. For these reasons, the issue of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in prisons demands immediate attention from community and Government alike."

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in Irish Prisons: A Call for Action will be released on

Friday, July 26th at 9.30 a.m.  at Merchants Quay Ireland, 4 Merchants Quay, Dublin 8

Learn more