HIV/AIDS rates in Burmese prisons high

Dec 3, 2009 (DVB), Medical negligence and lack of contraception in Burmese prisons are leading to high rates of HIV infection among inmates, a political prisoner support group has warned.

At least 10 political prisoners in Burma have died of AIDS-related illnesses, many of whom were healthy before being sentenced, said Tate Naing, from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP).

"U Hla Than, NLD's [1990] people's parliament representative was HIV positive when he died in prison in 1996, according to a doctor's report. Ko Sithu of Rangoon University Students' Union died of AIDS after a long stretch in prison , we also have doctor's confirmation on that," he said.

A recent UN report found that HIV/AIDS rates in Burma remain high, particularly among homosexual men, female sex workers and injecting drug users. Around 18 percent of female sex workers are thought to carry the disease.

The situation inside prisons is compounded by woefully inadequate healthcare. Rangoon's notorious Insein prison has only one hospital with around 100 beds to cater for up to 10,000 prisoners.

Prisoners with only rudimentary medical training often double up as practitioners in the absence of sufficient numbers of doctors and nurses. According to a report released by a former Insein inmate, there were only three doctors to treat the whole prison population.

Tate Naing said that the use of one syringe on multiple patients by prison doctors was causing illnesses to spread rapidly.

"When the ICRC [International Committee for the Red Cross] was allowed go for prison check-ups, the prison doctors did use the one-use syringes," he said. "But after the ICRC was barred from entering prisons in 2005, they barely used them again."

The friend of the late All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF) member, Bo Ne Aung, said that he had died from AIDS in 2001 shortly after being released from prison.

"He was a healthy when he went into prison but when he came back out, he was suffering from a lot of different diseases," she said.

"Later, he was submitted to hospital and blood tests showed that he was HIV positive. He died two months after that. He told me he became infected from a syringe."

The problem of needle sharing was corroborated by senior National League for Democracy (NLD) party member, Win Tin, who spent 19 years in prison. He said that prison medical services normally use one syringe, handled by prison inmates, on multiple people.

"I was a frequent visitor to the prison hospital," he said. "When I was in the hospital, other prisoners next to my bed warned me not to take injections and I didn't understand why.

"Later I found out the reason when I saw an inmate show up with a needle who started injecting different types medicines into a couple of patients with only that syringe."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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