Don: Close gap between prison and public healthcare

Nurse Lalitha Gopalan and Azreen Syazana check an X-ray film for symptoms of TB at a respiratory clinic. — Picture by Azneal Ishak
Nurse Lalitha Gopalan and Azreen Syazana check an X-ray film for symptoms of TB at a respiratory clinic. — Picture by Azneal Ishak

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Prisoners should receive the same standard of healthcare as the general population in order to keep infectious diseases under control, said an epidemiologist.

Yale University Prof of Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health Dr Frederick Altice said international standards recommended that healthcare for prisoners should be on  par with the public.

“It is vital for the ministries to come together on this issue and understand that prison health is public health because 98 per cent of inmates go back to the community,” he told reporters after his presentation at a roundtable dialogue on health and criminal justice outcomes for the incarcerated here yesterday.

“It must be ensured that prisoners are cured of any diseases during incarceration.”

He was commenting on Malay Mail’s report last Thursday that prisons were dependent on supplies from health clinics nearest to them.

The report quoting a Health Ministry source said there was no specific budget to fund healthcare for prison inmates, thus the limitations in treating them.

On May 30 and 31, Malay Mail brought to light the prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) among Malaysians and that prisons and detention centres were a hotbed for the airborne disease.

Universiti Malaya’s Dean of Medicine Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said it was not sufficient for prisons to be sharing supplies with government clinics or hospitals.

Adeeba, who is also a professor of infectious diseases, said ideally the ministry must have an allocation for prison healthcare.

She said Altice and her had a functioning clinic at the Kajang prison from 2011 to 2015 and it resulted in a tremendous drop in HIV-related deaths.

But due to funding issues, the in-house treatment was scrapped.

“During that period, we faced a lot of challenges in terms of medicine supply because we had to rely on drugs from the Kajang Hospital next door.

“We had to send the prisoners to the hospitals to get chest X-rays and that involves two officers for each prisoner,” she said.

“If 10 prisoners have TB, can you imagine the difficulties? It boils down to having an in-house healthcare system.”

Previously, the prison healthcare system was privatised but now it is seconded to the Health Ministry.

Adeeba said the ministry had made improvements in terms of medical personnel stationed in prisons but the funding was still something that needed to be addressed.

She said the ministry was quick to look into the high rates of latent TB effecting prison officers when it was highlighted.

At the forum, Bukit Aman Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department deputy director DCP Datuk Kang Chez Chiang said officers on duty at lock-ups also risked contracting infectious diseases such as TB, Hepatitis A, B and C.

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