Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prison Needle Exchange Advocacy Project

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (CHALN) Video 

As per their usual standard of high quality, thoughtful, prisoner rights advocacy in Canada and internationally, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (CHALN) have been working on an informational advocacy video which demonstrates the need for needle exchange in our jails and prisons.  The video project is part of CHALN's mandate to reduce harm for prisoners living with HIV/AIDS and for those at risk of contracting the infection.

Participating in the Project
I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in this project and did a filmed interview here in my home last Wednesday.  The fact that everyone was flexible and able to come to my apartment made things much more comfortable for me.  It also provided a backdrop of "normalcy" to the filming.  In other words, yes drug users also have families, homes, furniture, and photos of our loved ones!

Video Advocacy Team
CHALN has hired an exceptionally professional team with experience in social justice issues.  In fact they recently put together a video project for PASAN - the Prisoner AIDS Support Action Network, around the work PASAN does in advocating for prisoners who are HIV and/or HCV (hep C) positive.

Unsafe Drug Injection in Prison
The criteria for the video was that participants had injected drugs in prison.  What we talked about was my experiences of injecting in prison and how my family and I have been affected by the lack of sterile injection equipment.  Yes I have injected in jail, yes I used equipment that had been used by others (many others) and yes I was lucky, I did not contract HIV or HCV from those experiences.  Though I am HCV positive and I did contract HCV the very same way many women contract it... from sharing equipment with a trusted partner.  I naively believed that he would disclose to me (out of respect and care) if he were HIV or HCV positive. Silly me!  He was Hep C positive, he knew it, and he didn't tell me about it.  

What an asshole right?

Yes and No.  If there were not such a severe stigma associated with HCV and hence with disclosing, maybe he would'nt have been so scared to tell me.  Is fear of stigma and judgment a good enough excuse?  Not in my books, but it happens - alot.  
He, himself contracted HCV from injecting and sharing needles in prison.  If sterile equipment had been available to him and to others in his shoes maybe there wouldn't have been anything for him to disclose to me in the first place!

Rates of HIV and HCV Among Canadian Prisoners

Approximately 70% of those imprisoned in Canada have problematic drug use issues.  Injection drug users in general have higher incidents of HIV, HCV infection than the rest of the Canadian population.  This coupled with the lack of sterile injection equipment in prison ensures staggering rates of HIV, HCV infection rates among Canadian prisoners.  The HIV prevalence rate among prisoners is 10-19 times higher than the general population.  The HCV prevalence rate is between 19% and 40% higher than the general Canadian population.  
Studies conducted in 2005 at the provincial level throughout Canada found that between 33% and 67% of incarcerated injection drug users had shared equipment with other prisoners.  One Vancouver study found that as many as 21% of injection drug users had contracted HIV while in prison.

Human Rights Abuse

Is this a human rights issue?  You bet!  Does the government of Canada see it as such?  Not so much.  Particularly not the current conservative devils!  This fact should not prevent us from continuing to push and fight for drug abuse/drug use to be treated as what it is, a health issue, a coping mechanism, a reflection of mental health troubles, and not the individual moral corruption those without expertise or experience like to pretend it to be.  

Personal Experience with HCV Treatment

I was diagnosed with HCV about 10-12 years ago.  I have done little else by way of monitoring and/or treating it since then  I have however recently initiated HCV genotype testing and will be writing about my experiences with this process and the subsequent process of treatment if it is deemed necessary.  I will be participating in a program run by a community health centre in Toronto.  I chose this particular program because it offers a somewhat holistic approach to treatment.  What I mean by somewhat holistic is that the treatment is based pretty heavily on the medical model, but also offers individual and group counselling/support.  My first appointment is later this month.  I have already cancelled once and played phone tag with the program nurse for about a month after that.  Not sure if this was nerves or simply that other thing which causes me to cancel appointments and avoid people...depression.  In either case, I'm committed to attending the next appointment.

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