Twenty-four inmates in Kampong Speu’s provincial prison – where five prisoners escaped earlier this week – are reportedly experiencing a combination of respiratory difficulties, coughing, skin rashes and swollen legs.
Visiting the prison on Tuesday after the escape, Licadho Provincial Coordinator Ung Somith observed inmates suffering from a variety of ailments, which he described as “swollen legs, lung sickness, cough and skin diseases”.
Somith said he could not determine whether the prisoners had tuberculosis – which affects the lungs – but that inmates had trouble breathing.
Around 2am on Tuesday morning, the five prisoners – one of whom was convicted of murder – escaped from the clinic, where they were allegedly being treated for the same symptoms. Somith believes unsanitary prison conditions may have driven the five to flee.
“They live in poor conditions, they cannot eat well, the food is bad, some of them sleep by sitting and some sleep by standing because the prison’s rooms are small and they put many prisoners in the rooms,” said Somith, who said the prison currently holds 700 inmates. “I think these conditions make them become sick, and some of them decided to commit a crime, breaking out of the prison.”
Kampong Speu Prison Director Kak Savun could not be reached and Prisons Department spokesman San Keo declined to comment.
Although Somith did not know how many medical staff the prison employed, he explained that they could only provide inmates with basic “first aid” treatment.
Licadho’s research on 11 prisons throughout Cambodia found a disconcerting shortage of medical staff and equipment. “There are not enough doctors, usually one or two at most,” said Am Sam Ath, the organisation’s monitoring manager.
Noting that Licadho’s observations of prison conditions found high blood pressure, indigestion, urine infections, and swelling of the feet and legs to be common among prisoners, he recommended the government begin addressing the problem by increasing the number of medical staff prisons employed. “This is very basic,” said Sam Ath.
Cambodia’s anti-drug campaign has complicated prison conditions, observers have noted, and led to the arrest of more than 8,000 people in nearly six months. According to Wan-Hea Lee, a representative from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, medical personnel struggled to treat all the inmates in need of care.
“We have observed a definite increase in prison overcrowding, which puts strains on all the prison facilities, including the medical posts, and makes the spread of contagious diseases easier,” she said.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta