Five HIV cases reported at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, as Cebu City officials call to ‘isolate’ 136 HIV-positive inmates at the Cebu City Jail
Just as local government, health and jail officials in Cebu City are still coming to terms with the high number of prisoners who tested positive of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at the Cebu City Jail, the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) found it also has HIV-positive inmates.
Provincial Health Office head Dr. Rene Catan said they were relieved that the number was low, only five at this time, adding that it was likely that the HIV-positive inmates were already infected when they were committed to the facility.
Catan explained that those identified to be carrying the virus are already undergoing medication, but they are not isolated from the rest of the inmates.
Unlike the Cebu City officials who are batting to separate HIV-positive city jail inmates from the rest of the prisoners, Catan believed there is no need to isolate them.
According to Department of Health Central Visayas (DOH-7) director Dr. Jaime Bernadas, one can live with an HIV-positive person without contacting the disease as its modes of transmission are limited to blood donation, sharing of needles, and sexual contact.
“Dili man na angay ibuwag gyud (There is no reason to isolate them) because it cannot be transmitted by just talking to them. You can live with an HIV-positive individual without any risk of contacting it. So dili na siya angay kahadlokan (So there is no reason to be afraid),” he stressed partly in Cebuano.
According to Bernadas, there is even more reason to be concerned with getting in close contact with a person afflicted with tuberculosis since it is a highly transmittable disease.
Bernadas said that strict confidentiality is also enforced when it comes to HIV testing, and those who will undergo it will have to sign a form signifying that he is submitting to the test voluntarily.
Even inmates, Bernadas said, are entitled to their privacy and could not be forced to undergo HIV testing.
Catan said he could not give the exact number of those who had voluntarily submitted to HIV testing within the CPDRC but surmised that there was a possibility that there might be more who are positive but did not submit to the test.
Catan said this was the first time that they conducted HIV test on inmates and therefore have no basis to conclude if the number of HIV-positive cases inside the jail is increasing or decreasing.
According to Bernadas, the voluntary nature of the test is another factor why they are not able to determine the trend of HIV cases inside the jail as it precludes active surveillance on the inmates.
Bernadas said an inmate who wishes to undergo the test can go to the health care professional inside the jail at anytime.
Since health and jail authorities cannot force HIV testing on inmates, Catan said he is pushing for the health profiling of the inmates upon their commitment to the facility.
He said health profiling has never been done on inmates entering CPDRC, and it’s about time that this is done if only to know the kind of health problems affecting those jailed at the facility.
To do this, however, will require the approval of both the Cebu Provincial Board and Gov. Hilario Davide III since the jail is operated by the provincial government.
Bernadas said what they can do now is just to urge inmates who suspect they have HIV to get themselves tested.
“Do not hesitate to go to authorities, health personnel if you suspect you have HIV. You submit for testing so that if we find you are positive, we can give you medicine since the medicine is for free,” he said partly in Cebuano.
Bernadas added that aside from the free medication, the CPDRC inmates who are HIV positive are also given counseling.
In Cebu City, some councilors support the idea to separate those inmates in Cebu City Jail that have communicable diseases like HIV and pulmonary tuberculosis.
However, they admitted that this could be impossible considering that there is no place to isolate them since the jail, with over 4,000 inmates, is holding three times more than its 1,500 capacity.
Councilor James Anthony Cuenco believed that the “most ideal setup” for HIV-positive prisoners is to separate them from others to “contain” the problem, particularly since it is suspected that the spread of the virus was largely caused by needle sharing among nubain abusers.
He said that separating these inmates from the other prisoners does not fall under anti-discrimination since it is for medical purposes.
Councilor Mary Ann delos Santos, the deputy mayor for health services, also agreed that HIV-positive inmates be separated from the rest, but she was aware that it could not be easily done.
“We lack the facilities and we all know that,” said Delos Santos, who is set to visit the jail today.
Earlier, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña suggested separating the HIV-positive inmates from the others inmates, as they are prone to getting communicable diseases such as HIV and TB because of the congestion at the city jail.
Human rights violation
However, Supt. Arnel Peralta, the Cebu City Jail warden, said there was nothing to be alarmed with the number of HIV-positive inmates.
“Based on our inquiry, these inmates acquired the HIV before they were detained here. They did not get the diseases inside the jail,” he said in a phone interview.
HIV patients, he said, are not confined in one cell but are allowed to join other inmates.
“We could not separate them from the rest because that is a human rights violation. In fact, we did not tell the inmates who among them have HIV. Only the inmate with this kind of virus knows,” Peralta explained.
Peralta said DOH is providing medicines to inmates with HIV.
On the other hand, Peralta said they are hoping to ease the congestion at the jail with the construction next year of a four-storey building within jail compound.
The national government has allocated P103 million for the project, he added.
Greyhound to continue
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) Director Yogi Filemon Ruiz, for his part, said they will not be deterred and will continue to conduct surprise inspections in the different jails in the region.
“We are not afraid of HIV. Anyway, that is transmitted through sexual contact or if we are pricked by a needle,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Ruiz said agents of PDEA or the police just have to be careful whenever they conduct operations inside the jails.
“In fact, one of the reasons why I asked the male inmates of the CPDRC to take their clothes off during the Greyhound operation (last Feb. 28 was because) aside from bladed weapons, I want to make sure that the inmates are not hiding needles contaminated with HIV,” he added.
Aside from sexual contact, Ruiz said HIV can likewise spread through the sharing of needles for those using Nubain, a restricted injectable pain killer that was reported to have replaced shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) as a drug of choice among junkies.
He said PDEA-7 continues to go after persons who peddle or use Nubain in the same manner that they exert efforts to get rid of shabu.
“We just could not allow the proliferation of Nubain. Like shabu, there is no letup in our campaign against Nubain,” he said.
Based on their monitoring, ampules of Nubain are primarily sold in Barangay Kamagayan, Cebu City — once known as the go-to area for shabu customers.
While Nubain is legal in some countries, it was classified as a prohibited substance by the Dangerous Drugs Board in 2011.
Ruiz said Nubain is likely smuggled from Pakistan and India. An ampule of Nubain (nalbuphine hydrochloride), he said, currently costs between P120 to P150.
“The use of Nubain is dangerous. Infectious diseases are being transmitted through these injectibles. That includes HIV, malaria, and hepatitis,” Ruiz said.
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.