Pubdate: Thu, 28 Oct 2004
Source: Mirror (CN QU)
Copyright: 2004 Communications Gratte-Ciel Ltee
Author: Patrick Lejtenyi
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


According to the Montreal-based HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the rates of
HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C among Canada's prison population are soaring
and, if the spread is to be halted, prison authorities must implement
a needle-exchange program as soon as possible.

The idea isn't new. As Ralf Jurgens, the Legal Network's executive
director, points out in a new comparative report he co-authored on
prison needle-exchanges, Canada is actually lagging behind Spain,
Germany, Switzerland, Moldova, Belorussia and Kyrgyzstan in this regard.


"The experience shows that countries in both the West and the East
have woken up to a new reality and are taking a pragmatic approach to
the problem," says Jurgens. He says that while the report was being
written, Iran also implemented the measure.

Jurgens also says that prison staff in the six countries surveyed
approve of the idea, saying that it doesn't lead to increased drug
use, doesn't result in needles being used as weapons and demonstrably
decreases the spread of infection. He has met with corrections and
health officials here, and is hoping that they will heed his urge to
start up a pilot project within 18 months.

The need, according to Jurgens, is pressing: he says that one in 50
federal prisoners is HIV-positive, with similar or higher rates in
provincial jails; and his studies have shown that 20 to 80 per cent of
prisoners are infected with hep C. "This is an imperative issue," he
says. "We can't afford not to move on this."
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