Health activist in prison wins 2008 Human Rights Award for HIV/AIDS work



    OTTAWA, June 16 /CNW/ - A federal prisoner and health activist is the
recipient of the 2008 Canadian Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights,
the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch announced today.
The Award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that
protect the rights and dignity of people living with or affected by HIV and
AIDS, will be presented at a public reception and ceremony in Ottawa this
evening.
    As a peer health counsellor, Peter Collins has been conducting HIV
prevention education behind bars since the late 1980s. His efforts have also
included providing support to prisoners living with HIV and hepatitis C, and
advocating for better health care and HIV prevention services - including harm
reduction measures - in prisons. Collins is currently serving his sentence at
Bath Institution, a medium-security federal prison near Kingston, Ontario that
houses more than 300 male prisoners.
    "Today's award not only recognizes one person's efforts to make a
difference in stopping this epidemic, but also highlights how much still needs
to be done to ensure prisoners' basic human right to protect themselves
against HIV and hepatitis C," said Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the
Legal Network. "One immediate priority is to reinstate the safer tattooing
program; another is for Canadian prisons finally to implement needle exchange
programs."
    Prisoners throughout Canada still have no access to clean needles.
Studies in Canada and elsewhere report much higher levels of HIV and hepatitis
C infection among prisoners than among the population as a whole, and that
sharing of equipment, including makeshift tools to inject drugs, is common in
prisons. The World Health Organization, and the Ontario and Canadian Medical
Associations, among others, have recommended that needle exchange programs be
implemented in prison settings. The Public Health Agency of Canada recently
reviewed the evidence for Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and concluded
such programs make sense as a public health measure.
    "A prison sentence should not result in infection with a potentially
fatal disease," said Elliott. "Needle exchange programs have worked very
successfully for years in prisons in other countries, yet the federal
government has categorically refused to act, rejecting the recommendations of
medical experts, UN agencies and its own Public Health Agency."
    "Peter has been involved in fighting for the health and human rights of
prisoners, including access to harm reduction programs, for most of his 25
years in prison," said Giselle Dias of the Prisoners' HIV/AIDS Support Action
Network (PASAN), the community-based organization that nominated Collins for
this year's award. "We're very pleased that his work has been recognized, and
hope that it raises awareness of how often prisoners' health is disregarded
and their human rights ignored."
    While Collins' advocacy has often put him at odds with prison
authorities, his expertise as a peer educator on the inside has also helped
the prison system take positive steps, such as the ground-breaking "safer
tattooing" pilot project initiated by CSC in six institutions after its
surveys showed many prisoners get tattoos while incarcerated. That pilot
project was later cancelled by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in
December 2006 before the first-year evaluation was complete.
    "Prisoners have the right to adequate health services, but their access
to such services is unreasonably restricted by prison authorities," said
Rebecca Schleifer, Advocate for the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch.
"Denying prisoners access to HIV prevention measures such as needle exchange
programs that are available outside prisons not only ignores good public
health practice but it also violates basic human rights standards."
    For more information about the Awards, see www.aidslaw.ca/awards.

    About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

    The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) promotes the human
rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and
internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and
community mobilization. The Legal Network is Canada's leading advocacy
organization working on the legal and human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS.

    Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) is an independent, nongovernmental
organization that conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights
abuses in 80 countries around the world. Human Rights Watch addresses the
human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all
geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. It
defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of
the law, and a vigorous civil society; it documents and denounces abuses of
internationally recognized human rights. Its goal is to hold governments
accountable if they transgress the rights of their people. Human Rights Watch
began in 1978, and maintains offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles,
London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Tashkent, and Johannesburg.

    Disponible en français





For further information:

For further information: Christopher Holcroft (English), Principal,
Empower, for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Mobile: (416) 277-0450,
E-mail: chris_holcroft@yahoo.com; Vajdon Sohaili (English, French),
Communications Specialist, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Telephone: (416)
595-1666 ext. 227, Mobile: (416) 278-3750, E-mail: vsohaili@aidslaw.ca,
Website: www.aidslaw.ca

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