India: Unsafe sex and drug use in India’s prisons is leading to high HIV rates

The National AIDS Control Organisation’s recently launched prisons intervention programme has found that a large number of prison inmates contract HIV because of unsafe sex and the sharing of needles within prisons. Preliminary data from the programme shows that 2.5% of more than 35,000 prisoners tested are HIV positive. The rate of HIV infection among the general adult population is much lower at 0.28%.

The data was gathered with the consent of prisoners in 15 prisons where the programme is being implemented. Prisoners are also falling ill with hepatitis C and tuberculosis. More than 21,000 inmates at nine prisons in Punjab were tested for hepatitis C and 22% were found to have the disease. About 21% of almost 600 prisoners had tuberculosis. In prisons in the North East, 16% of inmates tested were positive for hepatitis C and about 3% had tuberculosis.

The HIV programme in prisons includes services like providing information on HIV, testing and counselling, and connecting HIV positive inmates to antiretroviral therapy centres. The programme also provides testing and treatment for other sexually transmitted diseases. NACO is also concerned that HIV positive inmates can eventually transmit the disease outside prison, especially to members of their families. 

High risk of contracting disease

India has very little data on HIV prevalence and high risk behaviors in prison but some studies like the National Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance 2014-’15 among high risk groups report drug injecting practices in prisons in every state. A study at Arthur Road jail in 2006 showed that men often have unprotected sex with other men, which might be consensual or coercive. Nalinikanta Rajkumar, president of the Community Network for Empowerment, who conducted hepatitis C screening activities inside Sajiwa Jail in Imphal has observed inmates sharing razors which increases the risk of contracting the disease.

Implementing the programme has already thrown up some challenges at the prisons, which are already short-staffed. Read more via