Tuberculosis, a contagious and potentially fatal disease, is a major health problem today in prisons around the world.
To mark World Tuberculosis Day on 24 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls on prison managers, public health authorities and the international community at large to pay greater attention to the dangers posed by the ongoing spread of TB in prisons and its export outside prison walls when detainees are released and return to their communities.
“We can’t afford to lose the war on TB in prisons. It is impossible to eradicate TB among the general population unless we deal with the problem in prisons as well,” said ICRC medical doctor Hernan Reyes.
TB is up to 100 times more prevalent inside than outside prison walls. This is often due to overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, ignorance of preventive measures and failure to supervise and ensure adherence to treatment. “Unfortunately, the world has been slow to recognize the urgency of tackling TB in prisons,” added Reyes.
More and more patients are developing highly resistant strains of TB in prisons. When this happens, TB, a previously curable disease, can become impossible to treat. The association of TB with HIV/AIDS further complicates the problem.
The ICRC has been fighting TB in prisons in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Africa for many years, either directly or by supporting local programmes. In the southern Caucasus, the ICRC and the local health authorities managed to reduce the mortality rate among TB patients in prisons from 16 per cent in 1995 to 5 per cent in 2005. However, much remains to be done. Dealing with TB in prisons is an urgent priority and should be an integral part of a larger public health policy aimed at controlling and ultimately eradicating the disease.