Saturday, November 22, 2008

HIV/AIDS Risk High Among Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News
November 21, 2008

Political prisoners in Burma run a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of unhygienic medical treatment, according to reports from inside several of the country’s prisons.

One report, by Reporters without Borders, said an imprisoned member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung Than, probably contracted the disease after being forcibly injected during treatment in Insein Prison for a prostate condition.

Aung Than was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment in 2006 for writing and distributing a collection of poems called “Daung Man” (“The Force of the Fighting Peacock.”)

Another NLD member, Hla Than, who was elected to represent Coco Island Township in the 1990 election, named five political prisoners he knew had died of HIV/AIDS—Khin Sein, Mya Shwe, Naing Aung Lun, Bo Ni Aung and Thuta Aung.

One former political prisoner, Aung Kyaw Oo, who served 14 years in Insein and Tharawaddy Prisons, said detainees were forbidden to possess hypodermic syringes and injections were carried out with shared needles, usually by ill-trained medics drawn from the prisoners themselves.

“If prisoners refuse to be injected with used needles they are punished,” said Tin Aye, a former political prisoner, who served 15 years and nine months.

“Insein prison is a center of the HIV virus,” he said. “Prison conditions favor the spread of HIV.”

Aung Kyaw Oo said most of the medics in prison hospitals were drawn from convicts with little medical background or knowledge, including drug offenders.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the standard of medical treatment in Burma’s prisons had worsened since inspectors of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stopped their routine visits.

The Geneva-based ICRC suspended its routine visits to Burmese prisons in December 2005 when the junta-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Association insisted on accompanying ICRC aid workers. The ICRC pointed out that its protocols required that prison visits be independent and unsupervised.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), 137 political prisoners have died in Burma’s prisons since 1988. The AAAP says the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other deadly transmitted diseases is high among prisoners.

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