Prisoners to get HIV drugs

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

The South African Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights has applauded the Correctional Services Department's decision to provide prisoners with anti-retroviral drugs.

The department will launch prison HIV-Aids testing sites in Pretoria today.

Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, Deputy Minister Loretta Jacobus and Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka will launch the ARV site in Pretoria today.

Correctional services spokesman Manelisi Wolela said of the four new sites Johannesburg and Pretoria have been accredited. The remaining two would be considered during the financial year.

Wolela said providing anti-retrovirals in prisons was aimed at minimising escapes.

"It's a mandate of the Health Department to provide help to all citizens," he said. "But there is a high risk of escapes if we transport offenders to health facilities outside prisons."

Wolela said there were at present 15 accredited sites.

"The one that will be unveiled today brings the number to 16," Wolela said. "It's a partnership between our department and the Health Department.

"The Health Department had deployed three lay counsellors to the Pretoria management area ARV site. They have provided wellness programmes to 24 offenders since April."

He said the launch came as a result of an extensive consultative process between of correctional services and health.

Four centres in Gauteng have been identified as ARV sites in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Boksburg and Krugersdorp in compliance with the set criteria of location.

South African Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights president Golden Miles Budu said the move would save the lives of offenders.

He said his organisation was happy that the department had done what his organisation had recommended many months ago.

"It's good news for offenders who are desperately in need of the medication since they are not allowed to go outside prison to get such medication," Budu said.

"The implementation has been at a snail's pace. We will keep a close eye on the department to ensure that people get help.

"I do not want to see the same thing that happened in Westville prison, where the department created a lot of hype and failed to deliver."