Feature story

UNODC and Brazil promote action on AIDS in prison settings

22 April 2009

A version of this story is also published at UNODC.org

The first national consultation on HIV in prison settings took place in Brasilia 31 March to 2 April 2009.
Credit: UNODC

Much more needs to be done to improve AIDS prevention, treatment and care services in Brazil’s prisons. This was the major conclusion emerging from the first national consultation on HIV in prison settings which took place in Brasilia between 31 March and 2 April.

Organized by Brazil's Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the objective of the consultation was to discuss and propose an agenda with an action plan to provide prevention, treatment, care and support services aimed at addressing HIV, other sexually transmitted infections and co-infections such as tuberculosis and hepatitis in prisons.

"UNODC is committed to supporting the Government of Brazil in the provision of HIV prevention and care services to the prison population," said UNODC Representative for Brazil and the Southern Cone, Giovanni Quaglia.

The national consultation was attended by around 150 professionals. These included specialists from the key ministries, representatives from all 26 states of Brazil and the Federal District (where the capital is located), health professionals working in prison settings, members of the national harm reduction network, representatives of the Brazilian segment of the International Commission for Catholic Prison Pastoral Care and members of the National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

UNODC is committed to supporting the Government of Brazil in the provision of HIV prevention and care services to the prison population.

Giovanni Quaglia, UNODC Representative for Brazil and the Southern Cone

As in most countries, Brazil has a higher HIV prevalence in the prison population than among the general population. According to the most recent research, a local study published in 2007, found rates of 5.7% among certain prisoners. In contrast, UNAIDS reports that by the end of 2007, general adult prevalence was 0.6%.

It is estimated that the country has approximately 420,000 prisoners living in often violent conditions where overcrowding, lack of access to medical services and unsanitary surroundings can lead to greater vulnerability to HIV and other infectious viruses such as tuberculosis and hepatitis. These conditions can also increase AIDS-related deaths and undermine attempts to implement an effective response to the epidemic in prisons.

Liliana Pittaluga, Technical Adviser at the Prevention Unit of the National STD and AIDS Programme, said that the consultation was a symbol of the solid partnership between the Government of Brazil and UNODC. "The cooperation between sectors is crucial to improve the health care and prevention services made available inside prison settings. We are confident that the results of this consultation will not only result in an exchange of experiences, but also in building a process of actions that will have a positive effect in the prison system at the country level."

The main outcome of the consultation was the commitment made by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice and UNODC to form a working group which will design a national operative plan with guidelines, targets and deadlines. In addition, civil society organizations, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNAIDS will be part of this group.

As well as UNODC, UNAIDS and PAHO/World Health Organization, also participating in the meeting were the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Health and justice experts from the Southern Cone region also attended as observers, at the invitation of UNODC.

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