Officers learn to protect themselves from inmates with HIV

Police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have received training in how to protect themselves when dealing with inmates infected with the HIV virus.

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DUBAI // Police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as other security officers, have received training for the first time in how to protect themselves when dealing with inmates infected with the HIV virus. The series of lectures, which were organised in partnership with Unicef and also attended by Ministry of Interior and Civil Defence officers, ended yesterday. Dr Bassam al Hijawi, the director of the Disease Control Directorate in Jordan, led the lectures and said although the initiative was a positive step forward, more could be done.

"The lectures clarified some of the misconceptions regarding how the virus is transmitted," he said. "But more people should be educated. It should be part of an ongoing plan where officers are trained to train others and pass on their knowledge." The lectures provided information on the different ways the virus can be contracted, addressing some misconceptions. "There were a few pointers that were not very clear, like the difference between HIV and Aids," said Dr Hijawi. "The lectures aimed to give students a fundamental understanding of the virus."

Dr Ghaith al Suwaidi, acting director of the department of human rights at Dubai Police, said the goal of the workshops was to educate and raise awareness among officers and protect prison employees. "Our idea is to plan for the future and take preventative action," he said. "We want to protect prison employees from the risks of Aids and to teach them how to deal with infected inmates." HIV is contracted through exposure to bodily fluids, either blood or those exchanged during sexual intercourse and the sharing of needles. Although the percentage of infected inmates in UAE prisons is unknown, Dr Hijawi said in some neighbouring countries the infection had reached up to 25 per cent of prisoners.

"Inmates can get violent and could attack each other or threaten those around them with the virus," said Dr Suwaidi. "Those working with them should know how to handle such situations, where bodily fluids are released in a fight for example, and how to deal with it without fear." Mayada Mostafa Wahsh, a programme officer at Unicef, said police and the organisation had an action plan in place until 2010 to address the subject.

"This workshop is just one part of a big plan which is going to be addressing all sectors in the community on the subject of HIV/Aids virus," she said. "The plan includes capacity building, experience sharing, integrated communication campaign and pure education which will be taking place in the coming months." Dr Hijawi said raising awareness among prisoners and prison workers was crucial because prisoners were considered the most high- risk group for contracting the virus.

"Though countries in the region have a low rate of spreading the disease, high-risk groups include prisoners, drug users and sex workers and that is where the main focus should be to prevent the spread of the virus," he said. "Prisoners are one group which are in high risk for contracting HIV/Aids. There are some dangerous, high-risk and destructive behaviours which take place in prisons such as drug use and gay sex," Dr Hijawi said.

"The experiences of other countries have found that drug use through needles is the number one method for the spread of the disease in prisons."