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Zimbabwe prisoners deprived of ARVs

by Staff reporter
24 Sep 2017 at 11:48hrs | Views
Pre-trial detainees claim an acute shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) has hit the country's prisons and correctional facilities, and is now threatening their survival.

While tendering their mitigation factors, and as they appear in court for bail hearings or during sentencing, prisoners have of late relayed fears of having their lives cut short due to lack of proper health services provision at Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) facilities.

Last week, 29-year-old Fortune Sibanda, an ex-cop who was jailed three years for robbery had pleaded with Harare regional magistrate, before receiving his sentence, to be spared jail because for the 13 months that he stayed in remand prison awaiting his judgment, ZPCS allegedly deprived him of ARVs.

"Your worship, may I be given a non-custodial sentence because I am an HIV patient and fear that I may not last long if I go to jail since there is no treatment. People who understand how ARVs are taken know that a person must not stop once they begin taking the drugs for them to be effective," Sibanda said.

"We were not getting regular dosages of cotrimoxazole and other ARVs because they are not available there," he said.

Sibanda is not the only one.

After his six week's incarceration at remand prison, anti-President Robert Mugabe cleric, Phillip Mugadza, confirmed that the only medication he was availed was basic pain killers.

"I swear that place is a health ticking time bomb, inmates are denied basic human needs like food, clothing, toiletries and we cannot begin to talk about ablution facilities.

"The institution has no capacity to provide medical facilities and in most cases when a person falls ill they are given pain killers. Worst case scenarios are the ones referred to major hospitals outside prison," Mugadza said.

Mugadza described the living conditions as inhumane and said detainees were at great risk of contracting communicable diseases — which the government would not be able to treat.

ZPCS public relations head, Priscilla Mtembo, had not responded to emailed questions by time of going to print.

Analysts have said that access to health and medical facilities is a basic human right that must be protected by government, which is responsible for prisoners' welfare.

Former legislator, Job Sikhala, now a lawyer, said legal action must be taken against the government if they fail to fulfil their mandate.

"There is need to enforce the rights of every citizen through taking constitutional measures to compel those who have no respect for the rights of others to comply," Sikhala said.

"ZPCS must be dragged to court to be compelled to act within the framework of constitutionalism."

MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu, echoed similar sentiments and said ZPCS must meet basic needs of all prisoners under their watch.

"The government has a constitutional obligation to make sure that all inmates in our prisons and correctional facilities are looked after in a humane and rehabilitative manner. Thus, HIV positive inmates have to be supplied with ARVs by the State through the ZPCS which administratively falls under the ministry of Justice,"Gutu said.

"Prisoners shouldn't be treated in a cruel, degrading and dehumanising manner. The modern trend in correctional services the world over is to focus on the rehabilitation of the offender as opposed to merely punishing them. Prisons should thus, be more rehabilitative than punitive institutions."

The State of prisons in Zimbabwe and ZPCS's operational capacity has been constrained by lack of funding and the country's bleeding economy.

The institution has often failed to bring suspects to court for hearings, feed and clothe them.

In 2006, the then Judge president of the High Court of Zimbabwe justice Rita Makarau, expressed concern over the conditions of pre-trial detainees who were being held at one of Zimbabwe's largest remand prisons — Harare Central Prison.

During a visit to the prison, Makarau met a number of pre-trial detainees, including at least 10 who had been held on remand for 10 years without trial.

She described their plight as "embarrassing and disturbing" and stressed that the courts had "no excuse for this delay. It is imperative prisoners who deserve to be released should not stay here."

The Constitution of Zimbabwe includes a Declaration of Rights, which guarantees fundamental rights to all persons, including those accused of committing criminal offences and awaiting trial.

Rights specific to pre-trial detainees include the right to liberty and the right to the protection of the law, which, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights includes "the right to a fair trial within a reasonable period and the right to innocence until proven guilty as well as freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Despite these constitutional guarantees, Zimbabwe continues to face challenges in ensuring the enjoyment of rights by pre-trial detainees, even though these rights are bestowed on them the moment they are arrested and detained.

Source - dailynews