Experts have expressed concerns about the health of prison inmates who are facing a wide range of physical challenges, including tuberculosis, drug addiction and depression – while prisons are overcrowded and have insufficient clean water.
Officials said that due to the drug crackdown which began earlier this year, the prison population has increased by 50 per cent since last year to more than 30,000.
Experts raised their concerns about inmates’ health at the Asian and Pacific Conference on Prison Health which began on Wednesday in Phnom Penh and organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), involving partners from the Health and Interior ministries, along with relevant NGOs in the region.
“The problems inside the prisons are water, infrastructure, health and sanitation. Our role is to ensure that they can distribute the resources to address and respond to the problems,” said Roman Paramonov, the head of the ICRC’s Cambodia mission.
The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP) deputy director, Lim Sokha, said: “There are many kinds of diseases at prisons, but communicable diseases, STDs, tuberculosis, AIDS, [and] skin disease are the biggest challenge”.
Sokha said he was unaware of the number of prisoners suffering from depression.
Chea Saret, head of the health office at the GDP, said that cases of tuberculosis were increasing gradually. In the first six months of this year, there were 191 prisoners infected with tuberculosis, compared to 214 for the whole of last year and 139 in 2016.
Meanwhile, she said that there was an increase in inmates testing HIV-positive – from 1.38 per cent in the first six months of last year to 1.52 per cent in the same period this year.
Ministry of Health secretary of state Te Kuy Seang said the ministry has been responsible for prisoners’ healthcare since 2010.
Choub Sok Chamroeun, the executive director of Khana, which is an NGO member of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance providing HIV prevention, care and support services in Cambodia, said that a strong collaboration and partnership between the GDP and NGOs has enabled the provision of quality care, support and treatment services to inmates.
This, he said, includes supplying life-saving medicines and helping inmates to know their HIV status and obtain prompt treatment.