Just two days after World AIDS Day, the Zambia High Court is hearing argument in a case that could set a precedent for the rights of HIV positive prisoners in Zambia - and across southern Africa.
The case - Mwanza and Another v Attorney General – was brought by two HIV-positive individuals, who allege that poor prison conditions and the lack of adequate food provided to HIV-positive prisoners on treatment in the Lusaka Central Prison violated their human rights. The two are being represented by Legal Resources Chambers (LRC).
“Prisoners are already in an extremely vulnerable position due to their incarceration but the situation is far more serious for HIV-positive prisoners on treatment since a lack of food and poor conditions can mean the difference between life and death.” said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which along with the Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC) has been following the case.
The two petitioners allege that while incarcerated at the Lusaka Central Prison they did not receive the needed food to ensure the full efficacy of their anti-retroviral treatment. They claim that they were given only two meals a day comprised of maize meal for breakfast and porridge with beans or anchovies for lunch. They further claim that many times the food provided was rotten or uncooked.
The petitioners also allege that poor prison conditions, including the lack of ventilation, unsanitary toilets, and overcrowding causing them to have to sleep sitting or standing, resulted in the deterioration of their health.
Finally, the petitioners allege that while incarcerated, they were denied access to their anti-retroviral treatment in a number of instances.
“It is essential that the High Court recognises the vulnerability of HIV-positive prisoners and insists that government provides all prisoners with adequate food and guarantees proper prison conditions,” said Moses Mazyopa, Acting Treatment Literacy Officer at TALC.
The Government of Zambia argue that prisoners living with HIV are given adequate food with supplementary food brought in by external non-profit organisations. They further deny the petitioners allegations of poor prison conditions and claim that there is a clinic on the prison premises to provide treatment to all HIV-positive prisoners.
The petitioners argue that the lack of adequate food violated their right to life and their right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment under the Constitution; their right to adequate food under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; their right to food under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and their right to medical and health facilities under the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.
The petitioners further argue that the poor prison conditions violated their right to be free from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under the Constitution.
Finally, the petitioners argue that the denial of access to their anti-retroviral treatment while in prison violated their right to life under the Constitution and their right to adequate medical and health facilities provided for under the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.
The government denies that the petitioners’ constitutional rights and their rights under international law have been violated.