Where We Work: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola and claim 75% of all cases of HIV in the Caribbean. Within their combined prisons live 30,000 persons with varying access to HIV or tuberculosis testing, prevention, care and treatment. In the Dominican Republic's LaVictoria prison, more than 11,000 visitors enter each week making the health of prisoners an important component of the community's health. Health through Walls works in the largest prison in the Dominican Republic, LaVictoria Penitentiary. With 8,000 prisoners it has the biggest population of any single prison facility in the Caribbean. HtW assists the prison's healthcare program in the management of HIV and tuberculosis. In 2013, more than 80 correctional officers were provided health training. A team of 20 prisoners were trained as Health Promoters (peer educators) and supported by HtW to facilitate HIV/AIDS and health education to other prisoners. They work to reduce stigma, educate, and improve access to care and treatment within the prison. HtW also provides discharge planning and follow-up for prisoners with HIV and tuberculosis who are being released from prison.
Testing and Treating Prisoners for HIV and Tuberculosis
Planning comprehensive health screenings of all prisoners at LaVictoria Penitentiary in the Dominican Republic began with funding from EJAF in early 2014. EJAF support allowed HtW and other partners to come together for strategic planning. These partners include the Ministry of Health, the Division of Tuberculosis Control, the General Directorate of Prisons, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Fundacion Genesis. Together we have implemented a massive undertaking to offer HIV and TB screening to each prisoner at LaVictoria. The project, which started in early September 2014, requires approximately 70 additional staff and volunteers and multiple supplies and equipment. The goal is to examine all 8,000 prisoners within a few months. Examinations include digital chest x-rays of all prisoners to identify tuberculosis, an infectious, highly contagious airborne disease that can be fatal if left untreated.
See video of Salud Integral Penitenciaria 2014 - La Victoria, Santo Domingo Norte, República Dominicana by Fundación Génesis. Health through Walls and other partner organizations participate in training and start medical exams of all 8,000 plus prisoners at La Victoria prison in the Dominican Republic in effort to identify and treat HIV, TB or other infectious, contagious disease.
Cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis have also been identified in prisons in the Dominican Republic. HtW worked closely with a young man in the LaVictoria prison who was suffering from MDR TB. He was finally permitted to reunite with his family who cared for him at home. HtW was engaged in providing his continued medical care, medications and support until his death.
Providing Reading Glasses to Prisoners
For the last few years HtW has been partnered with the Reading Glass Project, an innovative program that encourages the distribution of reading glasses, particularly to workers, artists, and families internationally. Their reading glasses have been distributed in 43 countries. Reading glasses are particularly important for prisoners in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica where prisoners often spend long hours without sufficient lighting, and most have never had their eyes examined for glasses. HtW is provided with instructions and eye-charts to fit glasses with the people who need them. Where we can, we work with a visiting, volunteer optometrist to dispense these reading glasses. Once the prisoners receive their glasses they are finally able to see details up close and read letters from family, legal documents, their medication instructions, or health information flyers, books, etc.
In the Dominican Republic, HtW held successful exams and distribution of reading glasses in the LaVictoria prison. See the photos to the right and in our Photo Gallery.
HtW's coordinator in Haiti, Karine Duverger, wrote the Reading Glass Project: "The medical parade went very well at the Women's Prison in Petion-Ville, Haiti. We completed the entire prison, 247 women, in 3 days. Each prisoner now has a medical record. Adding to our physicians and nurses, we had a dental team and an optometrist on one day. You can not imagine how we were happy to have the reading glasses available to distribute as the optometrist was doing his screening. Health through Walls wants to say thank you and on behalf of all the inmates that have benefited from those glasses."
Jamaica prisons: HtW's Secretary/Treasurer, Mark Andrews, shared with the Reading Glass Project that "One of the prisoners said he had been waiting for a pair of reading glasses for FOUR YEARS! He wanted me to thank reading glass project one thousand times! As you can see, we also gave the guards reading glasses... after all the prisoners got theirs."