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HRW: UAE denies prisoners life-saving HIV treatment

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HRW: UAE denies prisoners life-saving HIV treatment

Non-national prisoners in at least one UAE prison are being denied consistent access to antiretroviral treatment, a report by Human Rights Watch has revealed. 

Sources revealed that the treatment - important in suppressing the activity of HIV, result in “decreased levels of circulating virus (or viral load), protecting an individual’s immune system, and reducing the possibility of transmission” - had not been received by four prisoners for between three and five months at Al Awrir central jail, with the infected segregated and kept in an isolated area.

Any interruption to treatment can, according to HRW, “increase the risk of developing viral resistance and lead to a much higher risk of fatal opportunistic infections.” One unnamed prisoner, after four months without treatment, “showed an elevated viral load and a dangerously low count of infection-fighting CD4 cells, both of which can be warning signs of the possible onset of Aids, which dramatically decreases life expectancy.”

A 2018 report by the UN’s HIV and Aids agency, UNAids, claims that HIV is a “hidden epidemic” in the region, and misconceptions around HIV are widespread in the UAE, including the belief that “the disease could be caught from using public toilets, mosquito bites or touching an infected person.” One former prisoner, who claims to have seen two HIV-positive prisoners die in al-Sadr prison, said of the guards, “[they] knew nothing about HIV, they were afraid even to enter our block. They wore special masks and gloves, and talked to us through glass.”

International guidelines on human rights standards in prisons state that prisoners have a right to medical services equivalent to services available to people in the community, without discrimination. Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, has stated that “denying, delaying, and interrupting treatment for HIV for non-national prisoners is a flagrant violation of the right to health and potentially the right to life.”

The report comes following increased scrutiny over worsening treatment of prisoners in Emirati detention facilities. Earlier this year, cancer-stricken Alia Abdel Nour died following years of mistreatment and denial of adequate medical care despite repeated requests from the European Parliament and UN experts for her release. Recently, there have been increased concerns over the health of prisoners of conscience Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser Bin-Ghaith, the former having been on hunger strike since early September. 

On November 19th, the UAE will host the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, a summit intended for global health leaders “to share insights and best practices to eradicate infectious diseases.”

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media@icfuae.org.uk