INSEIN PRISON: HIV HEADQUARTERS?
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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INSEIN PRISON: HIV HEADQUARTERS?


By The Irrawaddy AUGUST, 1997 - VOLUME 5 NO.4/5


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A former political prisoner recalls the tale of HIV horror inside the notorious Insein prison. Slorc used to threaten political prisoners with the cancellation of visiting rights, beating, transferal to another prison or an unfamiliar cell-block, solitary confinement and extension of prison-terms. But it was not successful. Now, they use more effective weapons to threaten prisoners. We never paid any attention to Slorc’s torture in prison. We never cared at all. Before, we continuously demanded that Slorc authorities send anyone suffering from some disease to the jail hospital for medical care, but Slorc would reject our demands. As a result, there were many prison-fights between us and the jail authorities. All has changed now. All of us in prison demand that they not send any patient to the prison hospital, but Slorc forces jail authorities to send the sick there. If you ask me why, I think it is because the needles and the syringes there are greatly feared by the people in prison. We are all totally afraid of getting injections in the prison hospital. Nobody wants to risk contracting HIV as those who administered injections were not qualified physicians but other prisoners serving sentences for drug violations. It’s not propaganda. If you were allowed to go and see for yourself, you’d see clearly. First, you’ll see a small signboard on the entrance of the O.P.T. (Out Patient Treatment) room which reads; "Today — 15 needles are permitted for use". What a funny concept! This is for an O.P.T. which treats nearly 200 patients daily. In fact, of the Thai prisoners alone three or four die each month due to HIV/Aids infections. U Hla Than, NLD MP for the Coco islands, and U Kin Sein (Peoples’ Progressive Party) also died of HIV infection in prison. U Hla Myint, advisor of Nay Pyi Daw Than Tun, who was sentenced for NaWaTa Padamyagyi (a famous ruby-smuggling case involving Slorc members and Burma Socialist Programme Party) also died due to HIV infection. U Tin Oo, Deputy Chairman of NLD said, "We have evidence that Slorc authorities used one syringe for many patients without sterilization after each use." I have heard that there are never fewer than 10,000 prisoners in Insein. I wonder how medical officers can use such a small number of needles for prison patients. Why does Slorc ignore this issue? Are they unaware of the situation in prison? I think it’s not possible that they don’t know. Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the Chairman of the National Health Council, should know better. Nobody except him knows why the medical situation in prison is neglected. According to a WHO report in April 1996, it was estimated that in Burma 67.1% of injecting drug users were HIV-positive. 175,000 pregnant women were also found to be HIV-positive. Slorc has a limited number of personnel who possess a thorough knowledge of HIV/AIDS and its epidemiology. Although they have a huge budget for military weapons and the extension of the secret police, there is no budget for those undergoing treatment, nor are there campaigns against the spread of the disease. For those drug offenders who pretend they are doctors and inject the prison patients, Insein prison hospital seems to have become their headquarters. They can use the needle and syringe freely in there. If we needed to get an emergency injection, we had to pay 300 kyats to a medical officer or to one who administers injections for a new needle and syringe. However, according to the Jail Manual, nobody in prison has the right to possess and use money, except some criminals and some army officers sentenced for corruption. So, when we need to get safe injections–our food, milk powder, sugar, coffee mix, soap and toothpaste, which are provided and sent by our families–are given to them because we have no money. From those experiences in prison, I have concluded that for drug traffickers seeking refuge such as Khun Sa, Burma may be a heaven. For drug users in Burma, Insein is a paradise. But for political prisoners it is more like Auschwitz.

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