By Geoffrey Mutegeki Araali
Over 2,500 inmates in Uganda’s western region have benefited from a pilot project to improve the management and care for inmates living with HIV and AIDS and to significantly reduce malaria and tuberculosis infection.
The five year health pilot, spearheaded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), started in 2008 and is now being handed over to the Uganda prison service to continue its implementation. The pilot project has laid the groundwork for Uganda’s prison service to improve healthcare for all inmates and provide health services consistent with national policies.
According to the head of the ICRC delegation Riccardo Conti, the project has provided the ministry of health with a cost effective example of how to improve HIV, TB and malaria prevention.
Conti said, in the course of the project, ICRC has not only leveraged its experience of working in places of detention but has also been able to mobilise several healthcare providers to provide services to the prisoners.
“We have significantly contributed to reducing TB and malaria infection in the Uganda prisons services as well as providing effective management and care for those living with HIV/AIDS,” said Conti.
Conti added that ICRC has installed new prison health facilities and refurbished existing structures in addition to training prison staff and inmates to act as healthcare providers, care givers and counsellors.
“Many of the inmates will leave the prison after their lease with skills and knowledge that will not only serve them but also benefit their surrounding communities,” Conti said.
Conti made the remarks last week during the official handover at Fort Portal ‘s Katojo Prison of the health pilot project to Dr.Johnson Byabasaija, Uganda prison services’ commissioner general.
Dr. Byabasaija applauded the project, saying it has tremendously helped to reduce TB and malaria and provide effective care and management for inmates with HIV and AIDS.
“This is a good initiative of fighting diseases and infections in Uganda prisons and we welcome it,” said Byabasaija.
Byabasaija added that the Ugandan prison service is now ready to sustain the programme. Gervase Tumuhimbise , the officer in charge of Fort Portal prison, said the problem of TB is no longer a threat there as the screening centres and isolation units installed by ICRC have helped contain the disease.
Tumuhimbise added that the lives of inmates living with HIV and AIDS have also improved.
“Now out of the 808 inmates we have 107 living with HIV who have access to drugs and feed on fortified food, which keep them strong and alive,” he said.
Under the pilot project, health infrastructure at the prison has been improved and infection controlled. It also introduced new facilities and implemented upgrades to existing ones in order to provide proper screening and management or diseases. Additionally, prison health workers received capacity building to enable them to effectively deal with infections and other diseases.
Uganda’s Western region has a total of 13 prisons units, Fort Portal being the main one. This is the last health pilot project to be delivered to the Uganda prison service following a successful handover of previous projects in Luzira Upper and Gulu prisons.
Around 8,000 inmates annually are estimated to benefit from the efforts to reduce TB and malaria in Luzira, Gulu and Fort Portal prisons as the project continues.