HIV infection among South Africa’s incarcerated remains a pressing issue for the country. According to the World Health Organization’s estimates, a staggering 41% of the prison population in South Africa is infected with the HIV virus. While the socio-economic backgrounds of the incarcerated often mirror that of other high-risk groups (such as: unemployment, low literacy, alcohol abuse), the correctional facility setting further exacerbates the risk of HIV transmission. An environment of high-risk sexual activity, men having sex with men in relationships both coercive and consensual is highly common. Other HIV risk factors within prisons include sexual assault, overcrowding, gang culture, and contaminated cutting instruments.
Strengthening Prevention Services (STEPS) aims to reduce the incidence of HIV, TB, and Sexually Transmitted Infections within male correctional faculties through increased knowledge and prevention strategies. STEPS introduces education sessions which focus on key topics that provide opportunities for open discussions and encourage behavioral changes. Seeking to increase the number and effectiveness of HIV Prevention Strategies, the program aims to increase the number of offenders and officials opting for screening and testing for TB and STIs as well as HIV Counselling and Testing.
Proving to be a successful project, STEPS is currently used in 16 correctional facilities within the Province of the Eastern Cape. Through the work of STEPS, the number of offenders that have been reached through the program’s education sessions exceeds 7,000 individuals. Moreover, nearly 5,000 individuals have attended prevention group sessions, anti-stigma campaigns, and health fairs. Currently in its 5th year of implementation, the project has begun to close and STEPS is now working with Department of Correctional Services (DCS) and local partners to train and mentor them on the STEPS methodology to ensure that the program is fully adopted.