TB and HIV – a Plague of Tajikistan Prisons

Prisoners in the yard at a colony in Dushanbe. Photo from the archives. Author – Nozim Kalandarov

Author: Nargis Hamrabaeva, Tajikistan

Around 12,000 people are held in correctional institutions and pre-trial detention centers in Tajikistan. Approximately 100 of them have tuberculosis, and 220 live with HIV.

“HIV prevalence in prisons in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is estimated to be between 2 and 50 times higher than that in the general population. In EECA, Tajikistan has the highest rate of HIV infection among prisoners – 7%, which is about one-fifth of all people infected with HIV in the country. Additionally, according to the estimates, the risk of contracting TB in prison is 60-100 times higher than outside prison walls. Within the prison population, there is an increased rate of tuberculosis-related mortality compared to that in the general population,” states an overview of HIV and TB in Tajikistan prisons as described by AFEW International in 2015. Now, two years later, let us see how this situation has changed.

100 TB patients

“Over the last eight months, 59 new cases of TB in penal institutions were diagnosed. All these patients are registered and receive treatment. In total, there are 100 prisoners infected with TB in Tajikistan, which is less than 1% of the prison population. Compared to the previous years, the situation has improved significantly: TB detection increased, the laboratories are being modernized, there is new equipment and adequate provision of medications,” the Head of the Medical Department of the Main Directorate of the Penal System of the Tajikistan Ministry of Justice Saidkul Sharipov is saying.

According to Mr Sharipov, a real lifesaver for them was the mobile fluorography unit that could be taken from region to region, allowing for step-by-step screening of inmates.

“Such testing is conducted every six months. For example, recently we have examined about three thousand inmates for mycobacterium tuberculosis in all cities and regions, except Dushanbe. We identified 40 suspected cases of TB that will be followed through during the secondary examination,” Mr Sharipov adds.

In total, some 500 prisoners are kept under regular medical supervision, including those who had already received treatment and have fully recovered.

The Deputy Director for Infectious Control of the Republican Center on Social Protection from TB Saydullo Saidaliev also confirms that the situation with tuberculosis is under control and TB prevalence in Tajikistan has decreased.

“In 2005, more than 300 inmates had TB, this year – only 100. The rate of new infections has also been declining: 77 cases in 2016, 59 over the last eight months. Last year, seven prisoners died from mycobacterium tuberculosis, this year we had zero deaths from TB,” Mr Saidaliev says.

Almost all correctional institutions have special TB hospitals for 5–10 beds, as in prison settings one TB carrier could infect tens of people within a year.

HIV “enters’” prisons from outside

Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV are often spread in closed institutions.

Prisoners at a colony in Dushanbe. Photo from the archives. Author – Nozim Kalandarov

“Although we have not analyzed this thoroughly, one could assume that most cases of HIV infection among inmates take place within correctional institutions. Quite some detainees are imprisoned because of drug related crimes, like drug possession. People who inject drugs have a higher risk of living with HIV. Most of them serve a short term, but have the risk to be detained shortly after their release again for another short term. With the window period of detecting HIV, it is difficult to say if and when prisoners have got HIV while detained,”  the Deputy Director of the Republican AIDS Center Dilshod Saiburhanov is saying.

Inmates often learn about their HIV status in prisons, where HIV testing is offered twice a year. Currently we have 220 registered people with HIV, two of them are female, one under age, and 150 receive antiretroviral treatment.

Since 2010, the number of HIV cases among inmates has decreased: 292 were identified in 2010, while over the last nine months only 31 cases were registered – a nine-fold decrease. Screening procedures are improving every year, and 65–70% of prisoners get tested for HIV,” Mr Saiburhanov adds.

Currently, three correctional colonies in Tajikistan have the so-called “friendly offices” that distribute prevention materials – syringes, condoms and information leaflets.

HIV+TB: a particular risk

Experts note that they are especially concerned about HIV and TB co-infection, as people with HIV have a higher risk of getting TB as well.

“That is why there are cases of co-infection in Tajikistan prisons: about 25% of the total number of TB patients,” the Head of the Medical Department of the Main Directorate of the Penal System Saidkul Sharipov says.

Mr Sharipov adds that AFEW-Tajikistan is one of the few international organizations that work in Tajikistan prisons to reduce the burden of infectious diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis.

“We have been collaborating with AFEW since 2003 to conduct HIV and TB response projects in prisons, as well as information campaigns among inmates to prevent these diseases,” Mr Sharipov says.

One of the main problems is not even the lack of costly treatment and nutrition, because international organizations help with these. It is the lack of healthcare personnel in the penal system.

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