Kathmandu, March 24
The government has adopted precautionary measures in prisons and juvenile correction centres to prevent spread of novel coronavirus.
Though no inmate or detainee has developed symptoms of COVID-19 so far, Department of Prison Management said suspected cases would be referred to the hospitals designated by the government.
According to the DoPM, visits from relatives of prisoners have been suspended until further notice as part of the measure against possible outbreak of infection inside prison cells.
DoPM has written to Ministry of Home Affairs to supply personal protective equipment, thermal gun, face-mask, glove, sanitizer and testing kits to prisons and juvenile correction centres through Ministry of Health and Population. It said all prison staffers and inmates or detainees would be provided with face-mask and sanitizer for daily use as the crowded prisons were more vulnerable to the disease.
The country has 72 prisons, which are crammed with inmates and detainees more than double their capacity.
Currently, there are as many as 24,512 jailbirds including 1,528 women, either convicted of various crimes or waiting final verdict. Of them, 91 are dependants, while 1,281 are foreigners.
DoPM said handwashing facility and other preventive measures were enhanced in prisons. Psychosocial Hospital set up on the premises of Nakhkhu Prison will be used as an isolation facility for suspected coronavirus cases.
World Health Organisation has warned that prisons around the world can expect ‘huge mortality rates’ from COVID-19 unless they take immediate action including screening for the disease. New WHO guidelines issued yesterday are aimed at protecting one of the most vulnerable sectors of society from the spread of the infection.
According to the guidelines, all visitors to prisons along with staff and new admissions should be subject to their health check-up at point of entry. It is not possible in overcrowded prisons to respect the guidelines on hand-washing with soap, individual towels and social distancing. Prisons have high rates of disease, substance dependency and mental illness. Communicable diseases are of particular concern, with infection rates, for example for tuberculous being 10 to 100 times higher than in the community, WHO warned.
According to police,13 inmates died in the Sundhara-based Central Jail alone in the fiscal 2018-19. They died of different diseases including cold-induced ailments. Prevalence of various communicable and non-communicable diseases such as common cold, cough, fever and typhoid in jail and among ageing people often result in deaths.
Patients, who cannot be treated at the prison hospital, are referred to Bir Hospital, TU Teaching Hospital, Patan Mental Hospital and Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre for further treatment.
The government shall establish a hospital on premises of a prison with capacity of more than 1,500 jailbirds and a health post on premises of a prison having jailbirds from 500 to 1,500, according to the Prison Bill-2019.
Prisons across the country lack proper health and medical services. If a hospital or a health post can’t be established, concerned prison administration shall coordinate with the nearest health facility for health check-up and medical care of the prisoners. National and international rights bodies have long criticised the government’s poor handling of jailbirds. Increased crime rate has led to overcrowded prisons.
A version of this article appears in print on March 25, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.