THE lives of hundreds of people incarcerated in five Cambodian prisons will be placed
at risk if a health care program is forced to close, according to the project's acting
The Prison Health Program, administered by the human rights group Licadho since September
1993, will close by the end of June if donors cannot be found. The program is currently
being funded from the pockets of Licadho staff.
Cambodian jails are notorious for the poor conditions in which prisoners are forced
to live - as many as one in four suffer chronic respiratory and intestinal diseases,
and one in seven from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.
The program's acting director, Eva Galabru, said prisoners are given only 1,000 riels
a day for food, firewood and other basics.
"They may be lucky to get two meals a day, a thin soup with a few vegetables
and a trace of protein," Galabru said. "Prisons are crowded and poorly
ventilated. Under such circumstances it's not surprising they suffer from poor health.
"Overcrowding also provides a perfect environment for the spread of infectious
diseases like tuberculosis. Prisoners catch tuberculosis in jail and then take it
back to their communities when they're released.
"This project works," she said, "in the five prisons we work in we
have had no major outbreaks or serious cases [of disease] recently. In other prisons
people die from disease regularly."
Galabru said the program costs around $2,000 a month and involves a doctor, nurse,
midwife and pharmacist traveling to prisons in Phnom Penh, Prey Veng, Svey Rieng
and Kampong Channang. The team conducts examinations and issues anti-biotics and
But, she said, it was not popular with most donors because it wasn't seen as 'sustainable'.
Donors such as the UN Center for Human Rights, the World Church Service and the German
Embassy have provided funds on an interim basis since mid 1995 but on condition that
a longer term funder be found.
"Funders have said prisoners are not their priority - they say it's not sustainable
just to treat prisoners... all of them have declared that [the prison population]
is not among their specific target groups.
"[Previous donors] have provided funds on an emergency basis, not for months
and months... most see [prisoners' health] as the specific responsibility of medical
groups," Galabru said.
"They say the government should be doing it [but] I think their is a prejudice
against prisoners... the government can't do it. It's not that the government doesn't
care, it just doesn't have the resources.
"There was a recent outbreak of disease in one Kompong Som prison. Forty-seven
prisoners were sick, and one died. Six seriously ill prisoners had to go to hospital
but it didn't have any drugs. So the provincial prosecutor bought the medication
they needed. There is a will by officials, it's just a money problem."
Galabru said LICADHO was redesigning the program to include some vocational training
to make it more attractive to potential donors "but unless we can find funding
within a couple of weeks the project will close."