Culture of abuse in treatment of HIV/Aids

Culture of abuse in treatment of HIV/Aids


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Medical Justice, the charity that assists detainees access healthcare in detention, has once again published compelling research about the treatment of people within immigration removal centres.

In its latest report, Detained and Denied: The clinical care of immigration detainees living with HIV, Medical Justice provides a thorough analysis of the inhuman way in which people with the illness are treated.

At the launch of the report, those assembled were told how ‘exemplary’ guidelines on Detention, Removal and People Living with HIV, produced by the National Aids Trust (NAT) and British HIV Association (BHIVA), were routinely being breached; about the degrading treatment of children who had been told about the HIV status of their parents; how handcuffs were routinely used on hospital visits; about the systemic failures by the NHS and UK Border Agency (UKBA); how the detention of those with HIV/Aids was an inherent risk to the detainees; how the detention process undermined the effective treatment and management of the illness; how the aims of immigration controls were taking priority over health needs; how current practice leaves people at risk of harm and how failures in the continuity of care are putting people’s lives at risk.

Professor Jane Anderson, director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV at Homerton Hospital in east London spoke about how professionals had noticed people failing to keep appointments as they were being detained. HIV treatment had come on in leaps and bounds, she said, but was dependent on a person taking their medication regularly. She maintained that doctors had an absolute right to insist that patients were not handcuffed but that doctors may not be aware of this. She also spoke about how patients in detention were reliant on Medical Justice and the assistance and support that the organisation provided.

A refugee spoke movingly about her situation and how she had been denied her medication when she was detained after a regular signing on appointment. She also spoke about how on a visit to a hospital for tests a male and a female prison guard had accompanied her to the toilet. After her release she was told that being detained had probably affected her health as her viral load had increased. She pleaded for the UKBA to ‘treat us as human beings’.

Yusef from the NAT spoke movingly about how reality was falling short of basic decency and the mismatch between the guidelines and their implementation. He called for the healthcare in removal centres to be commissioned by the NHS rather than contracted out to private providers.

Other medical professionals spoke about how HIV treatment was lifelong and not just for three months and that there were ethical implications of patients being deported without access to drugs.

Doctors treating detainees (from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook) at Hillingdon hospital spoke about a ‘culture of discrimination’ and their concerns about the ‘flouting of human decency’. Another spoke about the ‘culture of abuse’ in which people were seen as ‘less than’.

The report has already been influential and is being used as evidence in a case due to be heard at the Court of Appeal in July 2011 which challenges the detention of HIV/Aids sufferers.

A meeting on the medical care detainees with HIV/Aids receive while in immigration detention is being held at the Institute of Race Relations on Monday 9 May 2011 from 1-2pm, to book a place please email:

Related links

Detained and denied meeting at IRR

Detained and Denied: The clinical care of immigration detainees living with HIV can be downloaded here (pdf file, 640kb)

Medical Justice

Download the BAT and BHIVA guidelines: Detention, Removal and People Living with HIV: Advice for healthcare and voluntary sector professionals here (pdf file, 408kb)

National Aids Trust (NAT)

British HIV Association (BHIVA)

Detained and Denied: The clinical care of immigration detainees living with HIV can be downloaded here (pdf file, 640kb).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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