On Wednesday, 11 September the Zambia High Court continued to hear arguments in Mwanza and Another v Attorney General, a case challenging poor prison conditions and the lack of adequate food provided to HIV-positive prisoners on treatment in the Lusaka Central Prison.
The case was before Judge JK Kabuka and the proceedings began with Advocate Siame Ismail, who is representing the prisoners calling Dr Canisius Banda, a medical doctor with 16 years of experience working on HIV and nutrition, to the stand. Dr Banda testified as to the medical aspects of HIV and the importance of nutrition for those on HIV treatment.
During his direct examination, Dr Banda explained to the court the nature and progression of HIV; the nature and impact of Highly Active Anti-Retrovial Treatment (HAART) on persons living with HIV/AIDS; and the importance of nutrition for an HIV-positive individual on HAART.
Dr Banda noted that in order for HAART to work effectively it is important to adhere to treatment, and follow a balanced diet. He further testified that the current prison diet, which constitutes a cup of porridge in the morning and a cup of nshima with a cup of beans or kapenta, an anchovy-like fish in the afternoon does not constitute a balanced diet. Dr Banda explained the role of a balanced diet in the management of HIV and testified that good nutrition helps manage the side effects of HAART. He stated that such side effects include diarrhoea, vomiting, organ damage, and maldistribution of body fats.
During cross examination the state advocate focused her questioning on diet and the side effects of HAART, asking Dr Banda whether a poor diet caused side effects to which he responded that side effects are worsened by a poor diet and hence a good diet would help manage them. During her cross examination, Judge JK Kabuka interjected and asked whether a balanced diet was not important to everyone regardless of HIV status, to which the state advocate agreed. After the state advocate asked Dr Banda to comment on the importance of the prison diet he highlighted that the prison diet is important to everyone regardless of HIV status and that the diet must meet the needs of each and every prisoner. In re- examination Dr Banda confirmed that the link between side effects and a poor diet is that side effects can be managed by a balanced diet.
The case had support from HIV activists, many of whom filled the courtroom. The activists wore white t-shirts with “HIV positive” written on the front and “I am a prisoner. I have a right to good nutrition too.” on the back.
The hearing was concluded with the state advocate applying for a postponement on the basis that they had been unable to secure their witness. The Judge noted that the state had delayed the proceedings by requesting for postponements on several occasions and then postponed the matter to 26 September 2013.