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THE Z-CHECK team and members of the Livingstone Central Correctional Facility Prisons Health Committee after a capacity building training at the centre.

COVID infections in prisons worrisome

NEWS that 150 inmates at Kamwala Remand Prison in Lusaka have tested positive to COVID-19 is worrisome.
The potential spread of the virus in congested correctional facilities has always been a source of concern but much more how the affected ones are going to be isolated. Kamwala Remand Prison, being a COVID-19 isolation centre for Zambia Correctional Service, beares the threat of spreading the disease to other correctional services in the country as inmates are transferred from there after the screening process. The number of inmates who have contracted the disease is too big to ignore especially that the country is grappling with the fourth wave of the disease. Obviously, their affliction with COVID-19 has added to the burden of dealing with other diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the prison. Certainly these underlying conditions will make it more difficult for the correctional service to improve the health of inmates and ensure that wardens who are always in contact with the prisoners do not contract the disease. According to a recent survey by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), HIV in prisons is still at a very high level with 27.4 percent of prisoners testing positive to HIV. Additionally, a Human Rights Watch report in 2010 showed that TB rates in Zambian prisons are 15-20 percent higher than in the general population. With COVID-19 cases increasing in correctional facilities the healthcare service is likely to be under pressure as there are few health facilities serving inmates in the country.
Out of the 87 correctional facilities, in Zambia only 17 have an associated health service, according to International Journal for Equity in Health. Eight of those 17 facilities have a health clinic within the prison premises established exclusively for inmate and officer use and staffed by health professionals employed by Zambia Correctional Service. The remaining nine facilities have a Ministry of Health-run primary health centre outside the prison but within walking distance. Unfortunately, 60 correctional facilities are dependent on a combination of prisoner-transfers to the closest MOH-run health facility or, occasionally, internal visits by MOH doctors, the report notes. Therefore, given this gloomy scenario in prisons, it is important for the correctional service to quickly put in measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in all other correctional facilities.
The correctional service should also take an aggressive approach towards vaccination of inmates even as it is grappling with HIV and TB in prison facilities. We concur with ZCS secretary Moses Musonda that there is need for medical officials to immediately move in all the prison facilities countrywide to vaccinate and check how many of the inmates have COVID-19. We urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to help in gaining access to the affected prisoners at Kamwala Remand Prison and move them out so that they do not spread the disease.
We understand that the church and other organisations in the country have been involved in the fight against HIV and TB in prisons but we ask that they should do more to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 among inmates. Inmates have the right to medication despite their other freedoms being taken away. We are also concerned about the health of circumstantial children among some female prisoners who may be caught up in the COVID-19 disaster in other correctional facilities. Although the disease has not had an impact on children in terms of infections, those locked up in prisons because of the crimes committed by their mothers should be protected by all means. However, the presence of coronavirus at Kamwala Remand Prison should not breed stigma against inmates especially those that may have a chance of being acquitted of their crimes.
Prisoners are human beings who should be accorded all the rights to healthcare even when they come out of their incarceration. We further impress upon the prison authorities to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to officers who come into contact with prisoners on a daily basis. We can only wish inmates who have contracted coronavirus at Kamwala Remand Prison a quick recovery as the correctional service is finding a solution to their plight.