EECA’s response to COVID-19. Prison health.
Evgeniy Yuldashev, peer consultant and social worker, AFEW Kyrgyzstan, about work with (ex) prisoners.
For three years, Evgeniy has been working as a peer consultant with people who are released from prisons and are getting ready for the release with AFEW Kyrgyzstan. His work is to provide support to (ex) prisoners, tell them how to adapt to the social environment and live a full life with HIV and any co-morbidities, such as tuberculosis or hepatitis C.
Changes due to COVID-19
Currently, Bishkek and other big cities of Kyrgyzstan live in the state of emergency. So far, there have been no cases registered in any correctional facilities. The penitentiary system implements a set of measures to avoid any outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons. First of all, it means that all prisons are closed for visitors, including AFEW Kyrgyzstan staff members. Since 20 March 2020, our peer consultants have not been visiting any institutions.
Fortunately, some of our team members work as social workers in the correctional facilities. Besides, in each institution there are 2-3 volunteers (navigators) from among the prisoners. Thus, we are still able to remain in contact with the prisoners.
Currently, one of our key priorities is prevention of the spread of coronavirus.
Prisoners are one of the populations most vulnerable to the new virus. The experience of other countries shows that in prisons the epidemic develops as a fire destroying everything on its way. It can be explained with the living conditions in prisons – overcrowded cells of the detention centers and cramped prison barracks do not allow for social distancing or self-isolation.
In fact, prison life has not really changed – inspections twice a day, waiting lines in the canteens and even long waiting lines in methadone dispensing sites…
From our side, we try to make our contribution to prevent any outbreaks in prisons. The first vital thing to be done is organizing awareness-raising activities. We started with our target group – prisoners who live with HIV. Through our project WhatsApp group and during our telephone calls, we regularly share information about coronavirus with the social workers which they can further share with the prisoners.
There is still a lack of studies on the virus, but the available data shows that HIV-positive people with suppressed viral load and high immunity status do not face a higher risk of infection than the general population. That is why our social workers and volunteers continue their efforts to enroll prisoners into the ART programs and ensure their adherence to treatment in close cooperation with the prison health workers.
As a peer consultant, I always stay in touch with the social workers and through them with the volunteers. We regularly organize phone calls and WhatsApp chats. As they say we are keeping our eyes on the ball. If prisoners have any questions, they can address them with our team through the social workers.
However, it will not be enough to inform people living with HIV to avoid any possible outbreaks. With support of our partners from the UNDP, we prepared a small information brochure, which will help people to learn more about COVID-19, its prevention, symptoms and treatment, and provided the published materials to the Prison Service.
Besides, we received a request for support from the prison administration to facilitate the procurement of personal protective equipment, disinfectants, etc. We submitted this request to our partners from ICAP, who will ensure the procurement of all the necessary supplies.
We are also looking for additional funding to roll out the response to the epidemic. Many prisoners complain about the lack of basic hygiene items. Today it is more important than ever to clean your hands and keep your towel clean. However, unfortunately such people do not always have access to a sufficient stock of such basic things as soap and laundry powder. We are in the process of negotiations with GIZ about the possibility to procure such materials and conduct large-scale awareness-raising activities covering not only prisoners but also prison staff as because of their work duties they are also at high risk of contracting the virus.
So we are keeping ourselves busy and make all the efforts to help our beneficiaries live through this challenging period of time.