Rising cases of sexually transmitted infections in prisons have re-ignited the question of whether Malawi should allow condoms use in penal institutions. Personal accounts of inmates who have released from prisons and several research findings are unanimous on the fact that homosexuality is rampant among inmates and consequently responsible for the widespread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A recent screening exercise conducted by the Malawi Prison Services at Chichiri Prison in the commercial city of Blantyre revealed that out of 1880 inmates tested for syphilis, 46 were diagnosed positive. The exercise also revealed that out of the 1,344 inmates screened for HIV, about 100 were diagnosed positive and 62 of them were newly infected. A research conducted by Dorothy Jolofani and Joseph DeGabriele for Penal Reform International on HIV and AIDS in Malawi Prisons on explains that “most prisoners and prison officers acknowledged that homosexual activity was common and that this was the main method of transmitting HIV within prison.” Despite such findings, the question of preventing spread of STIs including HIV among inmates is proving to be a headache to most bureaucrats and policy-makers in Malawi as homosexuality is criminalised. Homosexual activity or ‘unnatural offences’ as it is described in the Malawi Penal Code in Section 153 is illegal and carries a prison sentence of fourteen years. At the moment, courtesy of a government moratorium suspending the enforcement of the section, LGBTI citizens are not arrested, but the draconian provision still remains in the statute books. Considering the consequences of letting inmates to be contracting HIV while serving their sentences, the Malawi Interfaith Aids Association (MIAA) has proposed that government should immediately allow condom distribution in prisons to reduce the spread of the pandemic. “We are aware that there is homosexuality in our prisons. We even have testimonies of people who go into prisons without the virus and come out with the virus. This is a clear indication that homosexual acts are taking place in our prisons and if we do not do anything about it the rate of new HIV infections will continue to rise,” points out MIAA executive director Robert Ngayiyaye. He believes that distribution of the condoms will in no way promote homosexual acts in the country but it will be a way of ensuring that even prisoners have access to such health services.

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