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Sole prison health program could collapse

Sole prison health program could collapse

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

director.

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

vitamins.

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."

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