Jan 31, 2013 News
Very noticeable was the absence of prison officials from a high-level meeting held by the Ministry of Health yesterday with a view to amplifying the importance of good health care as a human right in the prison systems.
The agenda of the meeting, which was held at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street, Georgetown, detailed Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and Prison Chaplain and Superintendent of Prisons, Reverend Faye Clarke, as two of the key presenters.
Ms Clarke said that an officer was designated to deliver a presentation on the health situation in prisons and the main challenges and gaps.
According to the Health Ministry’s Parliamentary Secretary, Joseph Hamilton, who organised the meeting, he was informed Tuesday evening that the two officials would be unavoidably absent.
Nevertheless, the meeting, which saw attendance of several top health officials, including Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran; Chief Medical Officer, Dr Shamdeo Persaud; Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Dr Shanti Singh, among others, proceeded without the prison officials.
There was representation from the United Nations Development Fund, UNAIDS, the Guyana Human Rights Association and the Pan American Health Organisation which collaborated with the Ministry to host the meeting.
According to Hamilton a report on yesterday’s consultation will be forwarded to the Prison authorities.
PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr Beverley Barnett, reflected on the genesis of the meeting even as she pointed out that a move was made by Guyana to reiterate its commitment to protect the rights of prisoners.
According to her, an important aspect of that commitment, and a perfect example of the interrelatedness of all human rights, is the obligation to fulfil the right of health. She said that “this applies to all human beings regardless of their social or other condition.”
She noted that the important aspects of the right to health are non-discrimination, participation and availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of health goods, services and facilities.
In fulfilling its obligation under the various UN and Inter-American Human rights treaties and as a member state of PAHO/WHO, Guyana, she said, has recognised that people interacting with the justice system in one way or another, despite the fact that they might eventually be found guilty of having committed crime, are still people and are deserving of their basic human rights.
According to Dr Barnett, from a public health and practical perspective; it is important to maintain the health of prisoners since it is anticipated that most of them will eventually rejoin the wider society, participate in family and community life and contribute meaningfully to national development.
She added that the PAHO Resolution CD50.R8 specifically asks member states to “formulate and if possible, adopt legislative, administrative, educational and other measures to disseminate the applicable international human rights instrument protecting the rights to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and other related human rights among the appropriate personnel in the legislative and judicial branches and other government authorities.”
She noted that as part of its technical cooperation with countries to assist in the implementation of this resolution, PAHO/WHO has initiated activities in the field of health in prisons.
She disclosed that last year a meeting was organised between PAHO/WHO, the Ministry of Health and the Directorate of Prisons. During that dialogue, Dr Barnett said that interest was expressed in conducting a high-level meeting with key stakeholders to raise awareness on health and human rights in the context of prisons.
This, she said, was done with a view to discussing collaborations among various partners including public sector ministries, other UN agencies and PAHO/WHO to improve health in the prisons.
“This high-level meeting continues the dialogue to identify the best ways to achieve that goal especially given the interventions for tuberculosis and HIV control that are already being implemented.
“Human rights are a PAHO/WHO cross-cutting priority and one of the UN systems programming principles so we are very pleased to collaborate in this effort with the Ministry of Health and the Justice system and other partners,” said Dr Barnett.
With a well-defined scope, the high-level meeting, according to Minister of Health, Dr Bheri Ramsaran, is aimed at identifying the very best ways to coordinate a joint effort among relevant ministries for improvement of health conditions in prisons.
“That is fairly simple and straight forward…but the very identification of the task set for today’s activity is that it is of necessity that it be a multi-sectoral and profoundly participatory.”
He noted that yesterday’s meeting represented a fledgling effort which is worthy of support and should therefore only be expected to lay the foundation for change and improvements in the systemic delivery of health care promotion and other human rights aspects for vulnerable groups “rather than be a bringer of radical overnight reformation aimed at easing all and sundry.”
The meeting also saw presentations by PAHO/WHO’s Human Rights Specialist, Ms Sandra Del Pino; the National Tuberculosis Programmes Director, Dr Jeetendra Mohanlall and the National AIDS Programme Manager, all of whom sought to highlight how health could be improved in the prison system.
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