Lesotho hosts UNODC Regional Expert Group Meeting on HIV Prevention and Condom Programming in Prisons

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services - Lesotho  
Minister of Justice and Correctional Service - Lesotho (Picture: UNODC)

Maseru, Lesotho - From 23-25 June 2015 the Lesotho Correctional Service hosted experts and practitioners from 12 Southern African countries convened by UNODC to discuss the practical implementation of HIV prevention services in prison settings. The participants included representatives from Correctional/Prison Services, Ministries of Health, National AIDS Councils, Civil Society Organisations and former prisoners.

While most countries have existing national policies, guidelines and SOPs for HIV Services, these often cannot be implemented one-to-one in prisons due to the specific characteristics of the environment, including security, restrictions of movements, stigma, discrimination and prejudice. As a result, prison populations around the world often do not have access to the same interventions as the general population, despite higher prevalence rates and higher infection risks.

  UNODC Comprehensive Package for HIV in Prisons

This meeting was the third in a series of Expert Group Meetings convened by UNODC to support the development of the first ever Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for HIV Service Provision in Prison Settings in Sub-Saharan Africa. The previous meetings had already addressed treatment, care and support, including counselling and testing. Therefore, focus in Lesotho was on prevention, with emphasis on condom and lubricant programming in prisons.

Lesotho and South Africa - Models in the region

The meeting was officially opened by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Service, the Honourable Vincent Malebo, who welcomed the participants on behalf of the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho and directed the following advice at the participants:

"…Let us engage one another and come up with interventions that will favour public health. My advice to you is, focus on breaking the chain of infection, focus on cutting the HIV web, avoid dwelling too much on morality and legal issues, as I said, do your level best to put public health in the fore front above all other issues that are likely to hinder progress towards the prevention of new HIV infections, both in prison and in the general public."

Lesotho is one of only two countries in Southern Africa implementing condom programmes in prisons and therefore the perfect host to share experiences with their counterparts and to demonstrate practical solutions for service provision. An expert delegation from neighbouring South Africa, the second country in the region providing condoms in prisons, also shared their experiences and lessons-learned from implementing condom and lube programmes.

Discussions and Practical Solutions

While the meeting allowed for robust debates on controversial issues, focus quickly moved to discussions on how to overcome practical and physical barriers to an effective service provision, for example: where to best place condoms for distribution to avoid stigmatization, without compromising accessibility or security; to ensure that condoms and lubricants are packaged together, as experience has shown that otherwise condoms are left behind; how to organize hygienic disposal of used condoms and how to monitor correct and consistent use of condoms.

The experts also exchanged their experiences on other prevention interventions in line with the UNODC comprehensive package (see box), including prevention of sexual violence, prevention of transmission through tattooing needles, as well as test & treat interventions.

Experts at UNODC HIV Prevention in Prisons Meeting - Lesotho
 Experts in discussion (Picture: UNODC)

Prisoner Input

The inclusion of three former inmates/prisoners from the region proved to be very enriching as they were able to provide a different perspective and practical solutions to improve implementation. They called for the increased inclusion of prisoners in planning - "Nothing about us, without us" - and emphasized the crucial role of prisoners to ensure a successful intervention at each prison.

Practiced Prevention - Visit to Maseru Central

Condotainer in Maseru Central Correctional Facility  
 Condo-tainer at 
Maseru Correctional
(Picture: UNODC)

Meeting participants had the opportunity to see the condom programme up-close as well as the health centre and ART clinic at the Maseru Central Correctional Facility, the largest facility in Lesotho with close to 700 inmates.

Standard Operating Procedures for Prisons

The discussions, presentations, challenges and solutions from this and previous meetings will inform the guidelines and SOPs for HIV Service Provision in Prisons, which UNODC is developing in close cooperation with Member States.

This initiative forms part of the support UNODC has been providing to Member States and relevant authorities since 2008 through the Regional Programme on HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support in Prison Settings in Sub-Saharan Africa. This programme, implemented with the financial support from the Kingdom of Netherlands and the Kingdom Sweden, aims to enhance the capacity of countries to provide comprehensive HIV services in prison settings.

•    To find out more on UNODC's work on HIV in Prisons and access to relevant technical materials, click here
•    To access an online community of persons with an interest in HIV in prison settings, visit the African HIV in Prisons Partnership Network (AHPPN) website