A PRISONER believed to be 16 years old has died after a suspected outbreak of cholera at Kandal province’s Takhmao prison, officials confirmed Thursday.
Another 20 inmates have also fallen ill, and observers are blaming the situation on poor sanitation.
“These prisoners got diarrhoea and started vomiting on Monday,” said Muong Sam At, chief of Takhmao Prison, which holds around 950 inmates.
Muong Sam At would not confirm the man’s name or age, only saying that the prisoner had been serving a two-year sentence for robbery.
However, Man Sotheara, a doctor with rights group Licadho, whose staff have helped treat the prisoners, identified the deceased as 16-year-old Ny Kimhak.
Man Sotheara blamed the incident on poor sanitation within the prison.
“Our best guess at this point is that they became sick because of a lack of sanitation, as well as unclean water in the prison,” Man Sotheara said.
Heng Hak, director of prisons for the Ministry of Interior, said officials were investigating the illnesses, adding “we suspect it may be because of cholera”.
But he warned against jumping to conclusions, defending efforts to improve prison conditions. “The prisoners’ sanitation is our priority,” Heng Hak said.
Observers have raised red flags over prison conditions in the Kingdom, citing severe overcrowding, poor hygiene, unsafe drinking water and chronic underfunding.
“Access to water and sanitation is poor in many prisons,” stated a report released this month by the UN’s rights agency.
Licadho’s most recent report on prison conditions, released in 2007, suggested Takhmao was among the most overcrowded of 18 surveyed in the Kingdom – with 70 percent more prisoners than its official capacity.
The report suggested there were 452 minors incarcerated in the prisons in 2006, a figure that had almost doubled since 2001.