Harare - An Aids awareness campaigner and his lawyers are taking a ground-breaking test case to Zimbabwe’s highest court to force police and prison authorities to ensure HIV sufferers get their life-prolonging medication.
Douglas Muzanenhamo said in papers filed at the Supreme Court that he was denied appropriate anti-retroviral treatment in jail for three weeks last year and he was close to death.
Muzanenhamo, who has had HIV for 18 years, was freed without charge in March last year after police arrested bystanders at a lecture on the Arab Spring they claimed was in preparation for a local revolt.
In court documents, he said he was kept in filthy cells making prisoners with HIV susceptible to fatal infections. He was held in solitary confinement for demanding his drugs.
Sudden changes in drug treatment over 48 hours are known to trigger deterioration that could lead to death.
In the first lawsuit of its kind, citing as respondents Zimbabwe’s police and prison commanders, government ministers and the attorney-general, Muzanenhamo said on the day of his arrest officers at the main Harare police station didn’t allow him to call his family to bring medication he had to take twice daily.
After lawyers intervened, his family brought medication two days later but they were kept by police and not given to him at the prescribed times. Then he was given a single prison issue tablet once a day.
In the court deposition, he said he was “totally dependent” on the drugs, along with a healthy diet, to stay alive.
He feared he was in “mortal danger” on an insufficient diet of black tea, corn gruel and beans in harsh prison conditions.
Since his HIV infection, Muzanenhamo has campaigned among fellow sufferers on hygiene and medical and dietary ways to be able to live a “happy and fulfilling life,” he said.
Upon his arrest, the police ordered him to take off his jacket, socks and shoes. He was put into a tiny cell for five days without running water and with 15 other inmates, sleeping on the floor without blankets.
He said he was made to walk barefoot through “human excreta and dried blood.”
“Walking barefoot significantly increases the likelihood of me contracting a life-threatening infection,” he said.
His lawyers said his plight and that of thousands of other prisoners suffering from illness who do not get treatment was a cruel and inhuman denial of basic constitutional rights to life for many inmates who had not been convicted of any crime. – Sapa-AP