Intended for healthcare professionals


Israel: All prisoners have voluntary HIV test

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 04 February 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:282

Since 1988, 72 inmates in Israel's prison system have been shown to be positive for HIV by tests carried out soon after their incarceration. So far no inmates have been found to have contracted HIV infection during their time in prison.

Dr Jacob Zighelboim, chief medical officer of the Israel prison service, says that there are currently 6000 offenders in the country's jails. The chief medical officer says that every prisoner is tested for HIV on arrival in prison. Tests for hepatitis B and C are performed only on prisoners who are at high risk of the disease.

Dr Zighelboim says that those who are infected with HIV mix freely with other prisoners during the day: “But at night, when certain behaviours such as covert drug use and sexual encounters could occur despite our monitoring, we keep carriers together in a single cell or group of cells.” The results of HIV tests are kept strictly confidential, he says. “But most carriers speak of it openly to fellow inmates and prison staff; they think they'll be treated more carefully and with more consideration.”

Although some 80% of all criminal prisoners have a history of drug misuse, only about one in 10 have injected drugs; the rest swallowed pills or sniffed or smoked hard drugs. In addition, the chief medicalofficer maintains that, aside from homosexual prisoners, few heterosexual inmates are involved in homosexual acts. Thus the Israel prison service does not distribute either condoms or clean syringes to inmates. “We don't want to legitimise homosexuality or drug misuse, and in fact prisoners have not asked for them.”

All new inmates receive pamphlets about HIV infection and hepatitis B and C. They also periodically attend lectures and workshops on these diseases and how to avoid them.—JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH, medical correspondent, Jerusalem Post

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