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QC jail inmates given condoms to curb HIV

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QC jail inmates given condoms to curb HIV

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Aside from overcrowding, Quezon City Jail faces a serious medical concern. —AFP

Aside from overcrowding, officials running the Quezon City Jail are faced with another disturbing “conundrum.”

A number of inmates have tested positive for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) but they could not be segregated from the rest of the detainees, according to Supt. Randel Latoza, the jail warden.

To prevent the spread of the virus that causes the deadly AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in the congested facility, Latoza said, condoms had been distributed among the all-male inmates.

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The warden acknowledged that some detainees engage in male-to-male sex. As Latoza put it in an interview on Friday: “There are no women (in the jail) so we advise (the inmates) that if they cannot bear it any longer, use a condom.”

“It can’t be denied that there are sexual engagements inside, so we tell them to use condoms and provide them with literature pointing out that AIDS could be fatal,” he said.

“There are those who have (HIV) but we have a law that bars us from (publicly) identifying them or segregating them from other prisoners. So, how will you protect the others? This is our conundrum,” Latoza said, referring to the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

Balancing act

“The intervention that we do is to provide condoms, which angers the Church. It’s really hard balancing all these interests,” he added.

At least one inmate had voluntarily disclosed that he had HIV while the others were found to be infected based on tests conducted by health workers from the local government-run Bernardo Health Center in Cubao.

The center sends a team to the jail every week to check on these inmates and bring them medicine. They also conduct HIV tests on inmates who wish to be examined.

“We do screening but that is voluntary. We start with TB patients because the doctor said that, if you have TB, you are more prone (to HIV infection) because your immune system is compromised,” Latoza told the Inquirer. “My point is, not everyone gets tested. It depends on who wants it. We also cannot do random tests because the others don’t want to.”

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Another approach is to determine who among the inmates are having sexual relations with those known to be HIV positive. “We ask who has become an inmate’s ‘boyfriend.’ We listen to rumors to get information and once the inmate has been identified, we call him to ask if he wants to be tested. Then we give him literature (on HIV),” Latoza said.

“It’s hard to deal with them. I also don’t want to be charged (with violating the law), but how will I protect the others?” he added.

The identities of the HIV-positive inmates are kept confidential and even the mayores or cell leaders do not know them, he said.

Built to hold a maximum of 270 inmates, Quezon City Jail is currently packed with 2,800 detainees, with the number swelling over the past few months as the police made scores of fresh arrests in connection with the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs.

Since January, each detainee has been allotted a daily budget of P60 for food and P5 for medicines, Latoza said.

About 60 percent of the inmates had no family members or friends visiting them, he said. If they get sick, they usually receive “financial assistance” from the various gangs in the city jail.

According to latest data from the Department of Health, male-having-sex-with-male (MSM) has become the predominant mode of HIV transmission among males.

Of the total number of HIV cases recorded by the DOH from January 1984 to December 2016, 82 percent — or 30,238 cases — are traced to MSM. More than half (16,225 or 54 percent) of the MSM cases involved patients in the 25-34 year age group, while 8,953 or 30 percent were in the 15-24 group.

Male-female sex was the leading mode of transmission from 1984 to 2009 before the shift to MSM as the predominant mode was observed in 2010.

HIV cases transmitted through MSM have continuously increased since then. From January 2011 to December 2016, 89 percent or 27,310 of the new cases of HIV transmitted through sexual contact involved MSM.

With a report from Inquirer Research

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