Prison Congestion Breeding Ground for Viral Diseases

OVER-CROWDING in the country’s 89 facilities provides an ideal environment for the spread of airborne diseases such as tuberculosis (TB).

The health of the country’s inmates, which is estimated at about 17,000, is against only 35 prisons medical personnel in 21 prisons health facilities in the country.

Zambia Prisons Service (ZPS) deputy commissioner for Corrections and Parole Lloyd Chilundika said the major contributing factor to the disease burden in prisons is over-crowding.

“This is coupled with inadequate logistical support, inadequate health personnel, sexual violence, limited HIV screening, no comprehensive HIV preventive measures as well as insensitive TB diagnosis,” he said.

“Lack of privacy also contributes to shunning of HIV screening services,” he added.

Speaking during a recent programme dissemination research meeting in Lusaka, Mr Chilundika said that Zambia had 56 standard prisons with 33 of them being open air prisons.

He explained that the composition of inmates in prisons consists of 69 per cent adult convicts, 30 per cent being adult remandees, three per cent being female inmates with one per cent juveniles.

He said in 2010 Zambia Prisons Service approached the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) to assist in TB screening for prisoners.

He said the results of the partnership with CIDRZ have helped reduce on stigma associated with TB because there are no longer specific cells for TB patients.

“Previously there used to be a cell for TB patients, but this is not the case anymore,” he said.

Mr Chilundika said as part of efforts aimed at addressing over-crowding in prisons, which increases the spread of TB is to increase prisons space by 15,000, as well as increase the enrollment of qualified health personnel in prisons.

He said another way of addressing congestion in prisons is to scale-up on non-custodial sentences by incorporating community services as well as enhanced correctional and parole services.

Mr Chilundika said the Zambia Prisons Service directorate of health would focus on the recruitment of school leavers to train as nurses and biomedical staff.

He said the three-year project on the health strengthening system is being undertaken by the Ministry of Home Affairs, in partnership with CIDRZ, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and other partners.

And speaking at the same occasion CIDRZ officer Sisa Hatwiinda said part of efforts being made to enhance the health of prisoners is through improved prisons infrastructure such as rehabilitating prisons to ensure improved ventilation.

Ms Hatwiinda said out of the targeted 6,202 for TB screening in prisons across the country, 2,231 were screened for TB.

She said there is a correlation between the prevalence of HIV and TB in prisons.

Ms Hatwiinda said the prevalence of TB at Lusaka Central Prisons stands at 429, which have come about as a result of improved diagnosis of TB, the strengthening of prisons health services, as well as linkages with the external health systems.

“About 88 per cent of patients initiated TB treatment, with 64 per cent cured, while only about 20 per cent of the patients died,” she said.

She reiterated the high prevalence of HIV and TB in prisons, which she also attributed to poor screening and diagnosis.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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