ARV crisis in prisons averted

Media Advisory, JOHANNESBURG – 22 October 2013

ARV Crisis in Prisons Averted: Sonke Gender Justice & SECTION27 call for Correctional Services to Guarantee Prisoners’ Rights to Health

In the last few months HIV-positive inmates at Boksburg Correctional Centre have been struggling to access antiretroviral therapy and nutrition. Early this month, Sonke Gender Justice was alerted to the cases of several inmates who had not received their medicines in a consistent manner and were at risk of defaulting on their treatment regimens as a result. Sonke and SECTION27 intervened with prison officials requesting the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) to ensure that the prisoners had full access to their medicines. On the basis of these interventions the provision of ARVs and nutrition have been resumed.

Sonke and SECTION27 call on prison officials to avoid future stock outs, and to ensure that systems of monitoring the provision of health care services to inmates are not interrupted. This is crucial, given the serious and permanent effects that interrupted provision of ART can have on the health of inmates.

Sonke and SECTION27 also congratulate the inmates at Boksburg Correctional Centre who stood up for their rights in order to obtain these medicines, and applauds officials at the DCS for agreeing to reopen lines of communication with the affected inmates.

Sonke, SECTION27, and the inmates in Boksburg Correctional Centre hope that this unfortunate and avoidable sequence of events does not repeat itself.


  • In July 2013, the inmates approached Sonke to investigate this egregious violation of their constitutional rights.
  • The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) was administering ART insufficiently and/or incorrectly.
  • Several prisons faced stock outs, and in a number of instances no explanation was provided for why drugs were not available. This put inmates at high risk of developing permanent resistance to HIV treatment, leading to morbidity and death.
  • A number of inmates lodged complaints, but no relief was granted.
  • Through the legal representation of SECTION27, Sonke and the affected inmates sought an amicable and speedy resolution with the DCS.
  • Due to an insufficient response to these attempts, Sonke sent a letter of demand to the Department and negotiations ensued
  • On the basis of these discussions, the affected inmates now have access to the medication that they urgently need

Constitutional Rights

  • Inmates’ rights to HIV prevention, treatment and nutrition are clearly safeguarded in the Constitution, the Correctional Services Act of 1998, and by DCS and Department of Health policies and regulations.
  • The National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2012-2016 further identifies inmates as a high-risk population and calls on DCS to ensure comprehensive and prompt HIV services.


Contact: Bafana Khumalo
Senior Programmes Specialist
084 817 7716
Contact: Emily Keehn
Policy Development and Advocacy Specialist
072 225 6041