Getting the message across
PFZ runs health education sessions to teach prisoners about issues such as hygiene, nutrition and HIV. We give the prisoners information leaflets on the topic in question, and make sure these are translated into local languages. However, many prisoners are illiterate, so we also use drama. We hire a drama group to present health messages in prisons using singing, drums, acting and picture demonstrations.
I remember seeing a good example of a drama on the importance of following your HIV treatment plan. One actor played the part of a prisoner with HIV who had just been prescribed HIV treatment. The actor expressed thoughts such as, ‘I am in prison and I will never see my family again – it is best to die here and now, so I will not take my medication.’ Then another actor came alongside the first actor to support him, explaining all the reasons for taking the treatment. Dramas like this help people understand and engage with health messages.
Supporting one another
As workers with PFZ, our time in prisons is limited to certain hours each day. We therefore train prisoners as peer educators so they can spread health messages among their fellow inmates. These peer educators run individual and group discussions on subjects such as HIV prevention. In peer groups, prisoners are better able to express their concerns openly and feel that everyone identifies with them. Many peer educators are HIV-positive themselves. When the prisoners see them working with PFZ in responsible roles, this helps to reduce the stigma of living with HIV.
We also train certain prisoners to be something we call ‘treatment supporters’. As shown in the drama above, when prisoners are first diagnosed with HIV they often feel a sense of despair and cannot see the point of taking their medication. The treatment supporters offer encouragement to these inmates. They help them realise they will have a future outside prison one day, so it is worth taking the medication.
- How could you help improve the health care in your local prison?
Collins Musona is the Health and HIV Programme Officer for Prison Fellowship Zambia, a Tearfund partner organisation.