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World AIDS Day 2003: Government Inaction Fuels Prison AIDS Crisis

1st December 2003

World AIDS Day - The Irish Penal Reform Trust has called upon the Government to take immediate action to stop the transmission of HIV/AIDS in prisons, and to bring prevention programmes up to the standards set by the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS.

Research has shown that the rate of HIV infection among prisoners is more than ten times higher than that in the general Irish population, the rate of hepatitis C infection more than 100 times higher than in the general population and that high risk behaviours for the sexual and intravenous transmission of HIV and hepatitis C are widespread among prisoners. However, the Irish Prison Service fails to provide prisoners with basic HIV and hepatitis C prevention measures.

"Rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection have reached epidemic levels among Irish prisoners, yet the Government's response falls well short of best practice models established in other prison systems," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU that does not make condoms available in prisons.  Minister McDowell continues to refuse to provide bleach/disinfectants in prisons for cleaning syringes, despite calls to do so from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Prison Services' own Health Review Group. The Government refuses to provide prisoners with access to sterile syringes despite the success of these programmes in six other countries. This record clearly ranks Ireland near the bottom of the EU league table in terms of HIV prevention in prisons."

According to the IPRT, the health of prisoners is an important issue of public health concern. "Everyone in the prison environment - prisoners, prison staff and family members - benefits from enhancing the health of prisoners, and reducing the incidence of disease," said Mr. Lines.  "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. The issue of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C in prisons therefore demands immediate Government action."

Said Mr. Lines, "People in prison have the right to health, and the right to access health care at a level equivalent to that in the general community. This right is set out in international law, in international declarations and covenants and indeed in the objectives of the Irish Prison Service itself.  As people around the globe commemorate World AIDS Day, we are reminded of our Government's failure to uphold these human rights standards, and are compelled to again call for immediate action on this issue."

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