ACT Chief Minister and Minister for Health Ms Katy Gallagher has made a positive announcement this morning.

She released a draft blood borne virus (BBV) management strategy for corrections, which will help protect the health of the whole community.

The announcement included her comments below:

The strategy covers educating prisoners about the spread of blood borne viruses, steps to cut off the supply of drugs in the prison, treatment and screening, and provides access to needle and syringe programs, which have been proven to be successful in the wider community, on a trial basis.

“After many meetings and discussions with staff, unions and non-government organisations I have formed the view that a full needle and syringe exchange program, as outlined in various options in the Moore Report, would not be able to be practically implemented at the AMC at this time.

“However, I do believe that it is worthwhile examining a model which has been put to me by doctors which addresses access to clean injecting equipment if considered clinically appropriate.

“The model, known as “one-for-one” medical model would see the doctors, not politicians, as the decision makers.

“The next step is to convene an implementation group to provide advice on how this model could be implemented.”

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The following comments were released by Anex this morning.

Chief Minister’s ‘healthier cells’ strategy first in line with new UN guidelines

The announcement was welcomed by public health organisation Anex which has coordinated a program to demonstrate support for improved prisoner health amongst a wide ranging group of eminent Australians.

Anex convenes the Harm Minimisation in Prisons Committee which has been the leading group researching the issue and coordinating public education regarding how regulated sterile injecting equipment distribution could be piloted in Australian prisons.

“A wide range of eminent Australians support the introduction of regulated sterile injecting equipment distribution, including Sir Gustav Nossal and Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty,” said Anex CEO Mr John Ryan.

“This support including by the Australian Medical Association – is purely on sound public health concerns. Today’s announcement is worth applauding regardless of anyone’s political affiliation because the reality is there is no drug-free prison,” he said.

“The strategy announced maintains tight security, but there will be additional health professional involvement in blood borne virus prevention and drug treatment access,” said Mr Ryan.

It is acceptable that the start date for the program is some time away as there will need to be substantial preparation, including workplace training with prison staff such as prison officers, said Mr Ryan.

“There will need to be extensive cooperation with the prison officers, including with the CPSU, and training. It has always been expected that there would need to be a genuine education program for staff,” he said.

“The ACT Corrections Management Act makes it clear that the Government and authorities had to make at least some progress, otherwise it was leaving itself wide open to a form of legal challenge which had a very good chance of success,” he said.

Mr Ryan said the Chief Minister’s announcement was “entirely consistent with new guidelines from key United Nations organisations” on preventing blood-borne virus prevention in prisons. The guidelines were released on 26 July, 2012.

The policy guidelines specifically list sterile needle and syringe distribution as one of 15 recommended interventions in prisons, Mr Ryan said.

“Katy Gallagher’s cautious and wise approach toward healthier cells sets an ACT precedent that can assist other governments here and internationally plan holistic health strategies that include sterile injecting equipment provision in prisons,” Mr Ryan said.

“The UN guidelines also list ‘protecting staff from occupational hazards’, so it is fair and reasonable that a thorough process of consulting with the workforce is part of any roll-out in the next six months or so,” Mr Ryan said.

According to the UNODC, the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme (who co-authored the policy guidelines), it is aimed at “supporting decision makers in ministries of justice, authorities responsible for closed settings and ministries of health, as well as authorities responsible for workplace safety and occupational health, in planning and implementing a response to HIV in closed settings.”

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