Ramya Kannan and S. Vijay Kumar

The first will open in Puzhal Central Prison 1 tomorrow

Each centre will be equipped with appropriate diagnostic tools

It will be manned by a trained counsellor and a lab technician

CHENNAI: Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) for HIV will be set up by the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) in all the nine central prisons in the State.

While the first ICTC will be launched in Puzhal Central Prison 1 on Saturday, the ICTCs in the other prisons Puzhal 2, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Madurai, Salem, Palayamkottai, Tiruchi and Vellore will come up within a month’s time, according to Supriya Sahu, project director, TANSACS.

Each ICTC will be equipped with the appropriate diagnostic tools – testing kits, refrigerators and centrifuges. It will be manned by a trained counsellor and a lab technician.

“Following the principle that testing for HIV should be voluntary, no prisoner will be mandated to undergo a test. Instead, every prisoner will be given counselling and be allowed to decide to take or refuse a test,” she explained. In addition, the service will also be available for family members and visitors who come to see the prisoners.

The decision to start a centre within the prison was taken with the realisation that HIV testing and care was not integrated within the regular healthcare set-up of prisons. “The convicts and remand prisoners come from the same society, and are as vulnerable as anyone else, if not more. But, in their case, we feel that vulnerability may increase because of confinement and being away from the family for a long time,” Ms. Sahu added.

Training for staff

Training has been given to regular prison hospital staff in HIV diagnosis and treatment and the aim is to eventually mainstream HIV care in prisons. “In case any prisoner tests positive to HIV or STD, he or she will be put under the prescribed treatment pattern. Health status cards have been issued to all prisoners in the State,” R. Nataraj, Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) said. Tests will also be done for sexually transmitted diseases. If prisoners are found positive, drugs will be provided for opportunistic infections and anti- retro virals for those with low CD4 counts. Absolute confidentiality as to the status of the individual who is tested will be maintained, Ms. Sahu added.

In 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime initiated an HIV intervention programme in three prisons in India – Tihar Jail, Delhi, Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai, and the Amritsar Central Prison, Punjab. That project, however, focussed on prevention of HIV among incarcerated substance users in prison settings of South Asia, making it slightly different from the Tamil Nadu model, where counselling and testing centres will be established within the prison.