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Detainees in UAE are being denied lifesaving HIV treatment: HRW

HIV positive detainees in Dubai prison are separated from other inmates [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 November, 2019

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HIV positive detainees in the UAE are denied lifesaving medicine, according to Human Rights Watch.
Non-national HIV-positive detainees in the UAE prisons are being denied lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed Monday.

The detainees are tested for HIV every three to six months but, unlike Emirati detainees, they are either not given treatment or given treatment late. 

HRW learned from multiple sources, including former detainees in Al-Awir Central Jail's HIV Units in Dubai, that four prisoners there had "not received any medication for between three and five months". 

This was reportedly not the first time this had occurred.

"The UAE has an obligation to provide health care, including antiretroviral medicines, to all prisoners in their custody without discrimination," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. 

"Denying, delaying, and interrupting treatment for HIV for non-national prisoners is a flagrant violation of the right to health and potentially the right to life."

One prisoner became sick after not receiving treatment for almost four months, one source told HRW.

Upon testing, the blood count showed an "elevated viral load and dangeroulsy low count of infection-fighting CD4 cells" - dangerous signs for a patient with HIV.

Three other prisoners also expressed concerns about worsening health conditions, sources told HRW.

Effective treatment of HIV requires the regular intake of anti-retroviral treatment, without which the disease can develop into AIDS - which significantly lowers life expectancy.

One former detainee told HRW he received no treatment during his entire one-year detention -  eight months of which he was held in solitary confinement in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi.

"The guards knew nothing about HIV, they were afraid even to enter our block, they wore special masks and gloves, and talked to us through glass. They treated us like wild and dangerous animals," he said.

He said two HIV positive prisoners died while he was at al Sadr prison.

HIV positive detainees in the UAE are held in segregated units away from other prisoners, HRW reported. 

Read also: UK launches investigation into UAE detention of British PhD student Matthew Hedges

"They include people serving sentences for nonviolent drug  or financial crimes, others convicted of murder and other violent crimes, and others yet detained without charge who are in the central jail only because they tested positive for HIV," the report added.

Being placed in separate units means detainees are unable to forget the prison library and other amenities.

"They put you there [in the segregated unit] and forget about you," a former detainee told HRW.

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