KP prisons—breeding ground for HIV and HCV diseases

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PESHAWAR: Palwasha Khan and her two children are living in the Central Jail Peshawar for the last two years. She has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Khan has no access to professional doctors and nor are there enough medical facilities to bank upon in the Central Jail Peshawar. “My condition can get worse while those living with me can also get affected. The living condition in the prison is highly deplorable,” says Khan.

According to the data provided to News Lens Pakistan by the Prisons Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) through the Right to Information request, two male prisoners are affected with HIV while 53 men and two women are carrying HCV in 22 prisons of the province. Fourteen male and two female doctors, 38 medical technicians and nine female psychologists are looking after the inmates in the KP prisons overcrowded with 9,503 inmates, a figure well above the capacity the 22 prisons can hold – 8,091.

However, according to data submitted by the prisons department to the KP Assembly in response to a query from JUI-F lawmaker Najma Shaheen, in May this year, the overall capacity for male and female inmates is 7,793 and 298 respectively in four central prisons, 10 district jails, four sub-jails and as many judicial lock-ups. Currently 9,320 male and 183 female inmates are serving sentences in prisons across KP.

Noor Alam Khan, the chairman of the Voice of Prisoners (VoP), a non-governmental organization working in Peshawar, told News Lens Pakistan that there was no facility in Jails for conducting screening tests to determine whether the prisoners were infected with any communicable diseases such as HIV and HCV or not.

Yaseen Khan, a Central Jail Peshawar prisoner, told the News Lens that when he was incarcerated one-year back he did not have HCV. Now the doctors said he was suffering from this deadly disease. He blames the unhygienic condition of jail for delivering him this disease.
“There are not enough washrooms and most of them are not washed regularly adding to the miseries of the prisoners. One razor is used to shave as many prisoners which could have contributed in getting me infected with the HCV,” says Yaseen Khan.

According to Dr Umar Khan, medical officer at Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar, women are more vulnerable to HCV in prisons because of lack of gynecological facilities. He say unhygienic medical instruments are used to treat women in labour while old syringes are used to administer injections.

He further says that the law relaxes serving time for those prisoners who are either infected with communicable diseases, cannot be treated in the prison or those who are on the deathbed. None of this he says are followed in our prison system.

“There are 19 children between six months to five years age living in the Central Jail of Peshawar. All of these children are vulnerable to diseases but no actions is being taken to rescue these kids from the deadly environment of the prison even when we have law such as the Child Protection Act. The government should make it mandatory to screen all incoming prisoners so that those who are carrying HIV or HCV are kept separated from other prisoners,” said Dr Usman

An official of the Central Jail Peshawar, requesting anonymity, said that there were 21 bed hospitals for male and five-bed hospital for female prisoners in central Jail Peshawar for 2200 inmates.

Advisor to the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on prison Malik Qasim Khan Khattak told News Lens Pakistan that the provincial government were providing best health care facilities in all prisons of the province.

About the government’s effort to provide adequate medical facilities to the patients suffering from HCV and HIV the minister said that these diseases take time to be cured and the government was doing its best in this regard.

He further added that in the fiscal budget 2015-16 the KP government has allocated Rs. 30,500 million for maintenance of peace, through which free health treatment and all other health facilities would be provided in jails.

“We have always wanted to start a project on viral diseases in the Central Jail Peshawar with the support of health department KP. The recommendations for the projects have been sent to the Health Department but due to lack of funds the project could not be initiated, but now we are hopeful to get it moving as soon as possible,” Khattak added.

Advisor to the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Law Arif Yousaf acceded to  News Lens Pakistan about lack of medical facilities in KP prisons.

“I am fully aware of the fact that our prisons lack enough number of doctors, especially female doctors. These are basic human right issues and our government is fully on board on these issues and is doing its best to overcome the problems faced by the inmates.

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