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The health of our prisoners – who cares?

Have you ever wondered…with the state of health care facilities in Nigeria, what the health services available to prisoners would be like?

While in medical school at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu…it was a regular feature of our days to see a prisoner being brought to the hospital in a wheel barrow.

I remember one particular young man. He was brought to our unit with “crusted scabies”, a severe form of scabies that would usually only occur in imunocompromised patients. Despite the usual challenges of raising the funds to pay…he was slowly managed to better health. We spoke a lot during his time at the hospital. Together with other medical students on our team, we bought him the odd bottle of coca cola and groundnuts. Despite his illness he was happy for the 1-week in hospital. He tried to explain the situations under which prisoners live in Nigeria. For us young medical students, about to dedicate the rest of our professional lives to the concept of “saving lives” …it was difficult to come to terms with. Probably why I cannot forget this guy….

It is easy to forget that prisoners have just as much a right to health as the rest of us. I have not yet head of a prison sentence that includes the removal of the right to health.

It is also easy to forget that most prisoners currently in prison are going to come out soon and return to society, our society, so that the diseases/conditions they potentially acquire in prison…will soon become part of our society’s burden, and potentially transmitted to the rest of us…the “good ones” (who might ourselves be ending up in prison soon!). This is to illustrate that “prisoners” are not a separate breed…they are us!

In preparing this blog, I was happy to find that the Nigerian Prison Service does have a website!…and has a Directorate of Health and Social Welfare charged with the physical, psychological and developmental well-being of the inmates and staff. They, for the most part try to provide for the health care of prisoners themselves by directly employing doctors and other health care professionals. How well this is done….you tell me!

….then I looked up Pubmed to search for any articles on the health of prisoners in Nigeria. I barely found a handful, a few on HIV/AIDS…a few on psychiatric consequences.

….then I searched the web for an NGO that worked for the health of prisoners in Nigeria….and I found one (Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (PREMI) (if you know of any other, pls holla)

….then I looked out for politicians speeches talking about the health of prisoners…and you can guess what I found.

There is a general ignorance about prisons and prisoners, there are no votes in them, so politicians ignore them. The rest of us feel embarrassed to be associated with “them” so we pretended they do not exist.

I contend that we do need to know what goes on in prisons, and what happens to the health of prisoners. Even if it is for selfish reasons as “they” will return to our communities. “Their” physical and mental health when they return does matter….it should matter to us!

…do you know that:

Read more on the BBC

Over 150 inmates have broken out of an overcrowded prison in Nigeria’s south-east during a midnight escape bid.

Andrew Walker visits a prison in the south-eastern city of Enugu where some people who have not committed any crime are locked up for years on end.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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