Inmates inside Jamaican prisons are contacting HIV at an alarming rate, far outpacing the rate of the island’s general population.
Health experts are both worried and concerned that when many of these inmates leave prison they might end up having sexual relationships with women that have no idea that these ex-cons are HIV positive.
The study was conducted by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) and focused on inmates who were incarcerated for more than six months in three male adult correctional facilities and one female facility. The study shows that 6.9 percent of these inmates were HIV positive which is more than 3 times higher than the national average of 1.9 percent. In simple terms, for every 100 inmates that serve six or more months in a Jamaican prison, almost 7 of them are HIV positive. On the other hand, for every 100 Jamaican, less than 2 are HIV positive.
The St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre had the highest rate of HIV positive inmates while the Tower Street facility came in second.
The study also showed that inmates at these facilities have a high rate of syphilis at 4.5 percent.
The only groups in Jamaica that have a higher percent HIV rate than male prison inmates are transgender women and gay men.
The study showed that 56 percent of the HIV positive inmates were married or had been living with a partner, while 46 per cent were single and had never lived with a partner before being incarcerated. A third of the inmates claimed they contracted HIV while incarcerated,
Director of health promotion and prevention at the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Andrea Campbell, said the figure was a huge cause for concern.
“Anything above the general population is usually of concern to us. It is too high for inmates, and it is concerning because remember, a lot of these persons are coming back out in society. A study was done previously where we found that persons are meeting persons within the institutions, and when they do this, they believe that this person is inside the institution and they must be clean, they can’t have anything. Women on the outside meet men on the inside because as far as she is concerned, he’s not doing anything in there, but she doesn’t know what he was doing before he goes in there either, so this is of concern to us and is a target group that we really have to be looking at and scaling up our interventions,” said Campbell.
Based on the findings, Campbell said that the NFPB proposed to the Department of Correctional Services a series of interventions, including individual and group educational sessions at least three times per month, as well as the training of officers to reduce stigma and discrimination, and training of peer educators.
Responding to the data, Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton says that he will be seeking to engage in collaborative discussions to see what can be done to address the crisis.
“Any spread of any disease, from a public health perspective, would be concerning to us, so the issue becomes, how do we assess the information as the report has done, and what are some of the things that need to be done in the interest of public health to prevent, in the first instance, and in the second instance, to treat and contain the problem?” said Tufton