Prisoners should be able to access more condoms

first_img– Social Worker says to boost HIV/AIDS preventionBy Michael YoungeThere is nothing wrong with prisoners within the Guyana Penitentiary System accessing more condoms and other forms of tools that would enable them to protect themselves against HIV and AIDs during their tenure there.In fact, it is better to be safe than to be sorry, and it is time for the country as a whole to address the problem holistically, since many stakeholders already know what is taking place when the lights go out behind bars.These are the sentiments expressed by Social Worker and lesbian, gay and bisexual activist Anil Persaud, who is currently serving as the Homophobia Education Coordinator within the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).Speaking with the Guyana Times during an interview at the agency’s Duncan Street, Georgetown office on Thursday, Persaud said that while these views do not necessarily represent the official position of SASOD, they representSocial Worker and SASOD Homophobia Education Coordinator, Anil Persaudhis personal perspective as a qualified and trained Social Worker, and they represent the view of many other like-minded individuals.“It is a matter of fact that persons within the prison system do engage in sexual activity, be it overtly or covertly; and it’s nothing new or nothing strange”, he remarked.Persaud disclosed that many of the stakeholders who, from time to time, work within the local prison systems in Georgetown and New Amsterdam are fully aware of the practice.“…the prison officers, the prison wardens, everyone within the system knows this, and so I see absolutely no problem with the distribution of the condoms…we are dealing with adults…. If we are saying that condoms should be used as a means of protecting people, then why not distribute them to this (at risk population)”, he reasoned.The Social Worker also disagreed with the view that by making condoms available, Government and its partners would be guilty of promoting alternative lifestyles and homosexuality within the prison systems. This is an argument that has continuously being put forward by conservatives and religious stakeholders, who fear that by making them available, inmates would be lured into homosexual acts, or feel that it is an acceptable and normal behaviour to portray.But Persaud argued that all adults have a choice to make, and will more than likely not allow themselves to be forced into any practice that they do not ascribe to.“Everybody has a choice”, he insisted.He said the wider problem is that, many times, prison mates who were on remand for long periods or who would have served their time would have to be reintroduced into the normal society, and if they would have contracted some disease or HIV/AIDs while in the prison system, they could pose a threat to others with whom they engage sexually, especially if they are off treatment or were never on treatment.“Not distributing condoms doesn’t benefit anyone or the state… likewise, distributing them doesn’t take anything out of anyone’s pockets”, he declared.His comments come at a time when there is still widespread concern over the rising levels of HIV/AIDS within the local prison system. While official statistics have not been made available by the Public Health Ministry or the Guyana Prison Authorities, it is felt that more needs to be done to protect the inmates.Back in November 2015, then Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had said that while Guyana has been doing well in HIV prevention and treatment in some regards, the Government is conscious of the fact that there is still a lot more work to be done in the prisons and other closed settings.Making a presentation in Geneva at the UNAIDS 37th Programme Coordinating Board, Minister Norton said, “I wish to state in advance that I am in full support of accelerating an increased access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services for people in prisons and other closed settings. Whist we are all aware of the risk for HIV in prisons and closed settings, our response in many ways has been lagging, and therefore the time is opportune that we prioritise this population.”Minister Norton added that the issue must be tackled at all levels, including at the policy stage. “This means therefore that, at the national level, there has to be willingness and openness of all stakeholders to collaborate and share information as possible. There has to be leadership from line Ministries, such as Ministry of (Public) Security. Indeed, this brings to bear the concept of health in all policies.”Calling for more openness, he said the discussion has to be transparent, and real issues have to be addressed in a frontal manner.“…access to HIV education and testing, the controversial condoms in prisons. The opponents of prevention services, and more particularly condoms in prison, must be educated and lobbied to ensure that there is full understanding of the issues, and that decisions are based on evidence and science. Policies have to take on board a comprehensive combination/prevention approach to HIV.”Turning his attention to the local prison system and HIV/AIDS, the Minister said, “In my own country, the prison population has (an) HIV prevalence (that is) at least two times higher than that of the general population.”last_img read more