Fighting Tuberculosis in Prisons is a Smart Choice

Fighting tuberculosis (TB) in prisons is a smarter choice for governments as agreed by the social justice and public health sectors.

In India, the government was asked to allot INR 300,000 ($USD 6000) as compensation to be paid to the wife of the TB prison inmate who died inside the Howrah Jail. To have the TB disease and die because of it is not part of the prison sentence.

Although government tried to shun responsibility in the beginning, the inquiry conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) brought forth the truth. There was clear negligence on part of the government for not providing TB treatment and care to the prison inmates. He died later of chronic obstructive pulmonary tuberculosis on 27 February 2007. His family had complained that he was not given proper medicine and was not allowed to consult an expert.

If governments are made to pay compensation to every person who dies of TB, one can imagine the financial crisis governments might soon faced. Add to this the cost of TB that spreads due to suboptimal infection control measures particularly in prison settings. From social justice point of view, people who are sentenced to prison terms, are not sentenced to get TB and other diseases. Fighting TB clearly is a smart choice for governments!

There is no doubt that standard TB treatment and care should be made available to prison inmates who need it most. The media coverage of this news from India doesn’t even mention infection control measures. Standard infection control measures should be in place in prison settings and other congregated setting.

Why is health not a priority in prison settings? Some public health advocates believe that right to health is not recognized in prisons by governments. “Prison inmates are considered to be condemned people in the society, so the right to health is not considered in many countries. In few countries like South Africa, people have fought for the right to health and are able to push the government at all cost to access medication in prisons,” said Fred Mwansa.”

Not just TB, prison environment is usually considered to exacerbate the risk to myriad conditions. There are hundreds, even thousands of death of prison inmates which are directly related to negligence on the part of the government.

“We call upon the Government of every state in India and all the agencies in this region to take priority measures and compensate the families of prison inmates who died of HIV, TB or from other opportunistic infections while languishing in prisons or during judicial custody in the jails while serving a term or even otherwise,” said Ashok Sharma and Rajni Bhatt from Preserve’ Society in Uttrakhand, India.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB is not an unavoidable consequence of incarceration. It can be controlled through the application of Stop TB Strategy based programmes and improvements in prison conditions. Effective TB control in prison protects prisoners, staff, visitors and the community. (CNS)