Punjab has 1,054 HIV-positive prisoners. Of more than 21,000 screened in the past two years, 30 with full-blown AIDS are on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and of them, 14 are from Rupnagar district jail.
State Aids Control Society (SACS) screened them between 2014 and March 2016, and shared the figures with National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) last week. “The national average of prisoners living with AIDS is 2.2%. Punjab’s average is not even 1% but in other states, it’s falling, and in Punjab, it’s rising,” said Punjab principal secretary for jails Sanjay Kumar. Last week, Naco started a three-year project of identifying and treating the state’s HIV-positive prisoners.
Drug abuse is the main reason for HIV infection among inmates. In Punjab, 47% of the prisoners were caught either using or peddling drugs. They carry their drug habit into jails. It’s common to smuggle substance inside. More than 80% of the HIV-positive inmates take drug injections and many share syringes. To contain intravenous drug use and the virus, jail authorities have clamped down on the smuggling of syringes.
The needles issued to the jail pharmacists are now accounted for. It keeps members of the jail staff from diverting the stock to inmates. “Prisoners don’t have access to preventive care services, so prisons are a high-risk environment for HIV transmission. Because of high turnover rate (the frequency of coming in and going out), they spread the (human immunodeficiency) virus to the outside world as well. HIV prevention and treatment needs to be scaled up in jails,” said principal secretary for jails Sanjay Kumar.
HIV screening is mandatory for every new prisoner. Mobile laboratory from civil hospitals visit prisons every week. “The headcount from the district jails is clubbed with the respective central-jail figure,” Kumar added.