Inmates living with HIV/Aids threaten to quit treatment

Inmates at Anyeke Prison in Oyam District. The prison is meant for 100 inmates but houses 300. Photo by Bill Oketch

Oyam-Seventy prisoners living with HIV/Aids at Anyeke Prison in Oyam District have threatened to abandon anti-retroviral treatment because of poor and inadequate food.

Inmates say the prison has become a ‘death trap’, with poor living conditions ranging from bad food, water shortage and congestion.

One of the inmates, who is on ARVs, says food ratio is too small and is given only once a day which does not match the drugs they take.

“Some of us have now given the drugs a break since there is nothing to eat. The drugs are too strong to be taken on an empty stomach,” the inmate said.
The prison has one water tank which is only useful when it rains. Many prisoners trek long distances to villages to get water.

“We are in most cases forced to get water outside the prison, which makes us stay in a dirty environment,” the inmate said.

Mothers with babies at times do not even bathe. The little water collected is usually reserved for cooking.

The prison was meant for 100 inmates but today it houses 300.
“We sleep in turns and at times we give priority to our colleagues whose health is deteriorating,” an inmate said.

The officer in charge of Anyeke Prison, Ms Lilly Akech, admitted the congestion and shortage of food. She said the facility is too small for the number of inmates it is holding.

Ms Akech says the food government allocates to each inmate per day is inadequate.
“We are equally affected in handling the patients, especially when they abandon the drugs due to lack of food. We always communicate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for assistance,” she said.

She added that due to the pathetic prison conditions, inmates have thrice attempted to riot.

“Inmates are now becoming too stubborn because of overstaying on remand coupled with poor living conditions. They have attempted to riot thrice and we have had to transfer their ring leaders to Lira Central Prison. But still, there is need to improve the condition at the facility,” Ms Akech says.

She says the prison authorities are holding talks with Oyam District officials to facilitate the plan to install water at the prison.

“As much as they are prisoners, their hygiene should be taken care of,” she said.
Assistant Commissioner of Prison Moses Kakungulu Wagabaza said the living conditions will be improved gradually.

“There has been a problem of lack of judges over the years, but with new judges in place, many cases will be disposed of,” Mr Wagabaza said.

He said the ministry has rolled out a programme of food supplement for people who are on ARVs, and soon they will be at the facility to cater for the needy.

Lira Chief Magistrate Justice Muhamad Kaskeya announced that the High Court will have monthly sessions unlike in the past where a session could be organised at least once or twice a year.

“All cases of 2010 have been disposed of. Before end of the year, we shall have a High Court session which I’m going to organise to handle part of 2011 cases,” he said.

The Health Alert Uganda Programme officer, Mr Walter December Anywar, warned against abandoning ARV treat, saying: “ARVs will fail to fight the virus because you have given them room to accumulate in the body and the CD4 count will go down.”