Injectors say putting the health of prisoners first is what really matters

Organisations representing people who inject drugs in prisons have welcomed this morning’s announcement by ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher to trial a system of needle exchange in the ACT prison.

Nicole Wiggins, CAHMA Manager stated, “This is an important symbolic moment. It is well known that our prisons are filled with people who inject drugs. This means that governments across Australia have an obligation to proactively address the high risk of blood borne virus (BBV) transmission, particularly hepatitis C in our prisons. In announcing a draft framework for the management of BBVs in the ACT prison, which includes the proposed needle exchange system, the ACT Government has shown rare political leadership and has openly acknowledged their statutory responsibility for the health and wellbeing of prisoners in the ACT.”

In her speech this morning, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher stated that the implementation of the draft ‘Strategic Framework for the Management of Blood-Borne Viruses in the Alexander Maconochie Centre 2012-2014’ would involve further “targeted consultation” as part of finalising the framework and the implementation of the equipment exchange program.

“We support the ACT Government’s approach of including the equipment exchange program as part of a broad based BBV management strategy of prevention, testing, treatment and support. In taking a comprehensive approach to addressing BBVs in the AMC, it is very important however, that the planned “targeted consultation” process does not delay or impede the implementation of the equipment exchange program. There will need to be co-operation across all key stakeholders to ensure access to new injecting equipment in the ACT prison becomes a reality as soon as possible because injecting equipment is being re-used repeatedly as we speak. In this regard, we hope other states and territories now follow the ACT’s lead and implement NSP in prisons across Australia.” stated Nicky Bath, NUAA CEO.

Research evidence shows the enormous contribution that access to new injecting equipment has had in the general community in relation to preventing HIV and hepatitis C. The continued lack of Needle & Syringe Programs (NSP) in any prison in Australia however, has maintained a formidable barrier to BBV prevention in this context. In the ACT alone, it is estimated that up to 65% of prisoners in the AMC have hepatitis C. This includes 9 prisoners who have contracted hepatitis C within the AMC since it opened.

“We need to recognise the real, human impact that NSPs have. Quite simply, NSPs save lives. To this end, it is critical that when we implement NSP in the prison context, we need to get it right. What we know from NSPs in prisons overseas that how programs are implemented and the way they are delivered is critical and can make the difference between an effective and ineffective outcome. Prisoners are a highly marginalised population and we have a responsibility as a community to ensure their health and human rights are protected. As the ACT Government moves forward on this ground-breaking initiative, representatives of people who inject drugs will be willing partners in making sure this new program is given every chance to be effective and in doing so, save lives.” Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer concluded.