On May 18th, TAG and 46 other organizations and individuals – including the Stop TB Partnership, Global Coalition of TB Activists, and regional networks of people living with HIV, people affected by TB, and people who use drugs – are sending this letter to authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with an urgent appeal concerning the health of people with HIV in UAE prisons who are vulnerable to COVID-19. The appeal calls on authorities to facilitate the appropriate release on health grounds of all prisoners in UAE custody who are not being afforded access to appropriate medical treatment and care, or to include them in upcoming prisoner amnesties.
Human Rights Watch research has revealed that prison administrators have for years failed to provide prisoners living with HIV in UAE prisons regular and uninterrupted access to lifesaving HIV medication, with some suffering from opportunistic infections, including TB. Sources recently told Human Rights Watch that prisoners with HIV in al-Awir prison, where some cases of COVID-19 have reportedly been recorded, have been denied access to Rashid hospital, which is in charge of their care, since mid-March. At least one prisoner has suffered from TB while serving his sentence and at least two suffer from kidney disease.
A joint statement on COVID-19 in prisons by UNODC, WHO, UNAIDS, and OHCHR notes that “prison populations have an overrepresentation of people with substance use disorders, HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B and C” and that these groups “may be at increased risk of complications from COVID-19.” Therefore, authorities must ensure “uninterrupted access to the prevention and treatment of HIV, TB, hepatitis, and opioid dependence.” TAG and its allies had previously appealed to UN agencies to intervene on behalf of non-national detainees with HIV in the UAE who were denied regular access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV.
This most recent appeal follows a series of communications by TAG with UAE authorities about prisoner health and the unjust deportation of migrant workers with TB from the UAE.