Given the lack of proper medical treatment for inmates, Burma ‘s prisons have become an epicentre for HIV/AIDS prevalence, said a Thailand based welfare group today.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma ), in a statement released on Wednesday, said with Burmese prison authorities steeped in corruption, prisoners have to pay bribes in order to avail simple medical treatment.

Bo Kyi of the AAPP (B) said, “Even for a simple medical check up prisoners have to bribe and those who cannot afford to are treated carelessly.”

The statement said, prison hospitals are used as a relief centre for those who can afford to bribe and those who cannot are made to share needles and syringes for injections.

“For real patients [who] need to be given injections, the staff uses only one needle and syringe for many instead of disposable needles and syringes. In this way, the prison hospitals become distribution centres for HIV/AIDS,” said the statement.

The AAPP said, with the Burmese military regime’s new policy of slashing one-third of the prison budget in 2006, authorities intentionally torture prisoners to gain from bribery.

“Now, that the prison budget has been slashed, the authorities are relying on prisoners for their income and other expenses in the prison,” Bo Kyi told Mizzima.

Fuelling the situation is the junta’s limitation with the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct prison visits, Bo Kyi said.

“Since the ICRC has been barred from making prison visits, about 50 percent of medical supplies to prisons, which are given by the ICRC, have been reduced,” Bo Kyi said.

While the release of over 40 political prisoners in early 2007 was widely welcomed, the group said there are over a thousand political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders still languishing in prisons across Burma.

The AAPP added that even among prison inmates, political prisoners are discriminated against in terms of treatment.

“Even if political prisoners are recommended to be referred to outside specialists, they cannot be transferred without the approval of the intelligence services,” said the statement.

The statement further said that such circumstances lead to the untimely death of political prisoners inside the prison adding, “Now Dr. Than Nyein is also not permitted to be referred to an outside specialist. He has to ask his family to bring disposable needles and syringes for him.”

Dr Than Nyein, who is a member of the National League for Democracy and was elected Member of Parliament in the 1990 elections which the junta nullified, was arrested for his political activities in 1997 and was due to be released in 2004. While he is reportedly ill, his period of detention has been extended several times.

Despite the junta’s efforts to project that the prison conditions have improved, the poorly-fed inmates who suffer from malnutrition, are continued to be used as mine sweepers in war zones, forced into labour and kept in congested and unhygienic cells, said the AAPP.