SECTION27 is a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect, promote and advance human rights. Our name is drawn from the section in the South African Constitution which enshrines everyone's right to health care, food, water and social security.
A week after Cabinet adopted the Operational Plan for Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Care, Management and Treatment for South Africa (“the Operational Plan”) in November 2003, MM – an inmate at Westville Correctional Centre and the seventh applicant in the case of EN v Government of Republic of South Africa (No 1) – was diagnosed withoesophageal candidiasis, an AIDS-defining illness.
Since October 2005 the TAC and the AIDS Law Project (ALP) have assisted HIV positive inmates at Westville Prison in acquiring ARVs that have routinely been refused to them by prison authorities. Situated in Kwazulu Natal, one of the provinces most severely affected by HIV/AIDS, Westville had steadfastly prevented TAC or other NGOs from conducting treatment workshops, treatment literacy programs, or any form of HIV awareness training.
The ALP and Treatment Action Campaign made a submission to the Jali Commission in March 2004 entitled “HIV/AIDS in Prison: Treatment, Intervention, and Reform” [NOTE: LINK TO EARLIER SUBMISSION]. The submission dealt with the origins and causes of HIV infection in prisons, HIV prevalence in prisons, the HIV/AIDS policy of the Department of Correctional Services, including early release, and finally made recommendations, including several on the early release of prisoners with HIV/AIDS.
In prison, HIV/AIDS exacerbates existing problems and also creates new ones, yet the potential for far-reaching positive impact remains. Prisons are an intervention opportunity to reach a segment of the population, which is most likely to need government services related to HIV/AIDS and is also least likely to receive them through any other channel. Most people who end up in prison come from marginalised communities with limited access to health, education, and/or other sources of social welfare. For many of these people, their interaction with the criminal justice system will be their most extensive exposure to public services of any kind. Without an appropriate response to HIV/AIDS in prisons, the potential consequences will be increasingly tragic for both prisoners and the communities they represent.