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Community Health Efforts To Include Prison Inmates

Community Health Efforts To Include Prison Inmates

Government efforts to curb communicable diseases are to include targetting prison inmates.

Corrections Minister Mark Gosche and Health Minister Annette King today announced a pilot study to begin in January aimed at reducing communicable diseases among inmates.

The six-month trial at Christchurch Prison will include screening, assessment and treatment for tuberculosis, hepatitis A, B and C, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis. Inmates' vaccination status will also be checked for measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus, and missing vaccinations updated.

“The average inmate is back in the wider community within a year, so reducing communicable diseases in prisons benefits not only inmates and prison staff, but also helps protect the health of the whole community,” said Mr Gosche.

Mr Gosche said inmates tend to come from groups at higher risk of contracting communicable diseases.

“On arrival at prison, inmate health is generally poor. Many suffer from treatable diseases and have missed out on health care in the community. A prison stay gives an effective opportunity to address health care for this high-risk group, and thus have an impact on the health of the wider community.”

Annette King said the initiative was part of an integrated approach to tackling communicable diseases.

“To effectively tackle these diseases we need action not just in the health sector, but across all sectors - including within the prison population.

“This pilot should be seen in the context of proposals for a new Public Health Bill. The old Bill is out of date and the Ministry of Health today released a discussion document for public consultation on the new Bill. Proposals include issues such as authorising registers for screening and immunisation, and protections of people's privacy and confidentiality.”

Mr Gosche said that a separate six-month pilot is expected to begin in the middle of next year. The details of this trial are yet to be determined, but it will test the effectiveness of providing condoms and bleach to inmates to help prevent disease transmission.

“In line with World Health Organisation recommendations, this is common practice in many Australian, UK, European and Canadian prisons.

“Such an approach does not condone high-risk behaviours such as sexual activity and tattooing, which are banned activities in New Zealand prisons. Rather it recognises that despite our best efforts, such behaviours will probably never be completely eliminated.

“The challenge is how to minimise the harm associated with such behaviours, in order to protect the health of inmates, their families, prison staff and the public. It is in everyone’s interests that we meet that challenge.”

Mr Gosche said future government policy on curbing communicable diseases in prisons would depend on evaluations of the two six-month trials.

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