In Malawi, nearly 4 in 10 prisoners are HIV positive – compared to 1 in 10 in the general population.
Prison inmates in Malawi are an underserved and marginalized ‘key population’ in a resource-limited country that already faces significant health challenges. While there are ongoing efforts to provide access to treatment and care to all people living with HIV, access to these services in Malawi’s prisons is limited.
Key populations such as prisoners, sex workers, and men who have sex with men (MSM) are a group who face much higher rates of HIV and AIDS than the general population and are most at risk of contracting HIV.
One way Dignitas International is seeking to address this issue is through a study titled, “Prisons access to HIV/AIDs services in prisons in Southern Malawi,” that has been conducted through a mentored research award to one of our researchers, Austrida Gondwe.
Focusing on 6 prisons in the Southern region, lead investigator, Austrida, alongside onsite study supervisor Dr. Alemayehu Amberbir and Joshua Berman have been working in order to build local research capacity in various areas including data collection and analysis, manuscript preparation and results dissemination.
Although the study is in its preliminary data analysis phase, preliminary findings have shown that without a doubt – there is need for such a study. Some notable results show that many prisoners are lacking adequate HIV/AIDS services. This can be attributed to the fact that these services have been found to be limited, particularly because there are no dedicated clinics on most prison sites.
The effects are widely felt. Over 50% of prison inmates felt that access to HIV/AIDs care services in prison are unsatisfactory, compared to services received in normal health facilities. In addition, many HIV+ inmates on lifesaving treatment felt that the nutrition they receive in prison is especially inadequate.
With the prison population in Malawi said to be 200% over its capacity – such a crowded environment is conducive for the spread of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other diseases – let alone HIV. This, along with other extremities that HIV+ inmates face is of great concern for Dignitas, and are areas that this study can truly impact.
Once the 12-month study is complete, it will add new literature to the existing body of evidence about prison inmates access to HIV/AIDs services. Ultimately, the hope is that this evidence-based research would help advocate for improved treatment and care for this key population and additionally engage policy makers in necessary dialogue that would enact change.
It is estimated that close to 3 in 10 people living with HIV do not know their status. Many of whom are key populations – the often forgotten and outcaste members of society.
If we are to reach the UN’s ambitious 90-90-90 targets and truly eliminate HIV/AIDs by 2030, it is paramount that we close the gap by also reaching those amongst us who are most in need, and that others may choose not to.
As Dignitas continues to work on the cutting edge of research, this would truly ensure we leaving no one behind.