HIV BEHIND BARS: SUPPORTING HIV RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND TESTING IN ITALIAN PRISONS
Prisoners may not be the first people you think about when considering the HIV epidemic but in urban settings across Europe and the Western world, the carceral population is an important group to address when looking at the future of HIV.
Indeed, data on HIV awareness and prevalence within the Italian prison system is limited to a handful of observational studies. The lack of comprehensive data not only makes estimating HIV prevalence in Italian prisons difficult, it also makes developing effective HIV education and testing interventions a challenge.
We have started working with a penitentiary ID physician Society SIMSPe Onlus, a patient organisation NPS Italia Onlus, and Ca' Foscari University to help tackle these challenges. Under the coordination of SIMSPe Onlus, this group of HIV community advocates, healthcare professionals and academics have conducted a comprehensive survey of HIV awareness in prisons, to develop and implement a HIV education and testing intervention that targets the specific needs of incarcerated people as well as the needs of prison staff.
The power of partnership
All the three partners played key roles in the HIV education programme, which engaged prisoners and prison staff alike on key information about HIV prevention and transmission, as well as dispelling common misconceptions noted from the survey results.
“Each partner contributed unique value to this project. One of the aims of this project was to pilot how partners across different sectors could draw from their different competences and expertise in order to make the broadest, collective impact on the healthcare system in prisons”
"This is the first time incarcerated women and young people have been included in such a comprehensive HIV programme in Italian prisons. Data generated from this project will be used to inform a range of targeted interventions for the different incarcerated populations”
“Rapid HIV testing with immediate counselling was an option for anyone inside the prison – for incarcerated people as well as healthcare personnel and staff.”
NPS Italia Onlus President Margherita Errico commented: “In almost every case, when we asked prisoners if they wanted to take a raid HIV test, they accepted. We believe more prisoners were willing to test because they knew that their results would be available in a matter of minutes.”
For those prisoners who tested positive, NPS Italia Onlus enabled peer-to-peer support from volunteer mentors – many of whom had been incarcerated previously. One of these mentors is Mario Cascio, who has been working with prisoners and education about HIV for years.
WATCH NPS ITALIA ONLUS PRESIDENT MARGHERITA ERRICO, PEER MENTOR MARIO CASCIO, AND CA' FOSCARI UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR PEROCCO DISCUSS THEIR PROJECT:
HIV Behind Bars - Peer Mentor Mario Cascio discusses the Positive Partnerships project
HIV Behind Bars - NPS Italia Onlus President Margherita Errico
HIV Behind Bars - Ca' Foscari University Professor Perocco