THE Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) has opened up a Tuberculosis (TB) isolation clinic worth more than K70 million at Lusaka Central Prison.
The centre is aimed at addressing the airborne disease which is rife in the correctional facility due to congestion.
Speaking at the official opening of the facility in Lusaka on Thursday, Home Affairs Minister, Kennedy Sakeni, in a speech read for him by his deputy Obvious Mwaliteta, said TB cases were prevalent in prisons countrywide owing to congestion.
Mr Sakeni said the number of inmates had increased to levels higher than the capacity of existing infrastructure, giving rise to several challenges, among, others, communicable diseases such as TB, dysentery and scabies.
"This state of affairs has not gone well with members of the public, the Human Rights Commission, relatives to inmates who believe that this is deliberate on the part of Government to punish the inmates some of whom are serving lighter sentences and those in remand.
"Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the prevailing health state of affairs in our prisons, as mentioned before, has not been deliberate on the part of Government as generally perceived. It has always been Government's intention to ensure that the hygienic standards in our prisons are improved in line with international standards," he said.
Mr Sakeni said it was in view of the foregoing that the offer by CIDRZ to fund the project was timely and appreciated, especially that the Government alone could not solve all health services in various institutions as that was a mammoth task.
He said the country was currently faced with a crucial opportunity to change the health conditions in prisons so that they met international standards and that the Zambia Prison Service had risen to that challenge through the Health Directorate to become a regional model for TB control and HIV detection.
Mr Sakeni said the dedication to the service towards eradicating treatable diseases in the country's prisons was the priority of every officer in the service and it was in that vein, therefore, that he elevated Sub-Inspector Lyness Mwambanabantu to Inspector for her dedication towards the CIDRZ TB project.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of our officer is a testimony to the nation that prisons are not neglected dens where people are sent to die without care. I note with gratitude this spirit by this officer's dedication to duty. Therefore, in recognition to this spirit of service, I have promoted her to the rank of Inspector," Mr Sakeni said.
CIDRZ deputy director Namwinga Chintu, disclosed that to date, over 8000 Zambian inmates and community members had been screened for TB, with 531 (almost seven per cent) found positive for the infection.
"This rate of prison-related TB diseases is 16 times higher than is found in the community, and is one of the highest levels recorded in Sub-Saharan African prisons," she said.
Dr Chintu said many of the inmates found with TB had no symptoms or had a normal chest x-ray, adding that the number of TB cases found in prisoners exiting the prison was four times higher than in new inmates entering the prison setting.
"This means that the transmission of TB infection is rampant within the prison walls, and if not put in check by rigorous screening and treatment programmes such as this, it will threaten communities outside the prisons," Dr Chintu said.
Commissioner of Prisons Percy Chato bemoaned the overcrowding in Zambian prisons, which, he said currently stood at 250 per cent, adding that it being one of the serious challenges confronting the service, it brought about undesirable conditions in most prisons.
Mr Chato cited the conditions as overburdened sanitary facilities, overburdened medical services resulting in communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS, but was optimistic that the "depressing state of affairs" was destined to change with the commitment Government, in partnership with cooperating institutions like CIDRZ, had demonstrated.
He assured the minister that the prison service was determined to ensuring that prison facilities were not "death dens" for inmates, through the directorate of health services that was striving to provide health services equivalent to those found in society, saying its resolve was premised on the principal of "prisons health is public health."