The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed health care systems all over Africa and the world. Though African governments have taken measures to contain or fight the virus in the communities, putting in place specific measures to protect vulnerable populations such as detainees remain a challenge.
If some critical measures are not put in place in places of detention, an outbreak of the virus in a prison could be devastating, with a potential new humanitarian crisis for the population in such areas grappling with congestion, lack of access to clean water, and weakened health care systems.
During a joint webinar organised by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and The Africa Center for Disease and Prevention Control (Africa CDC), Africa Prison bosses assessed the situation with a view of looking at the existing guidance and health services delivery in places of detention in this context of COVID-19, their effectiveness and possible improvement measures.
Dr John Byabashaija (pictured), the Commissioner General, Uganda Prisons Service, who was among the panelists, highlighted the importance of protecting the lives and health of persons in detention and the need to uphold full respect of their dignity and fundamental rights.
He said that areas of attention when putting in place preventive measures in prisons included the need to prevent person to person transmission, reduction of contamination of surfaces and the need to implement health care measures in prisons without discrimination, especially in this context where the detention population is vulnerable to COVID-19.
Among the activities to be maintained by the teams includes the stand-by class one, prisons isolation centres, staff encamped at prisons along international borders, staff quarters in lockdown among other activities.
“Top management has reviewed activities under lockdown. Staff must be paid their allowances especially frontline staff and those participating in food distribution. Operational budget for stations be increased to cater for various operations that are being catered for by funds from Kibarua. COVID taskforce has been maintained until further notice,” he said.
Byabashaija, the current Secretary of African Correctional Services Association (ACSA) was a panelist on the Africa CDC- ICRC joint Webinar on COVID-19 in Detention Centres: discussing issues on Governance and Leadership for Health care in places of detention, Health Information Systems in Detention places and Health care delivery :- prevention steps and clinical management.
The Key achievements and challenges in relation to implementation policies and response measures in present COVID-19 period as well as further reinforce coordinated actions and Government responses to fight the pandemic in places of detention in Africa.
Speaking about the conditions of detention and policing in Africa, the African Union Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, Commissioner Maria Terresa Manuela commended measures taken by most African countries to reduce the number of inmates in the context of COVID-19, and called on other countries that haven’t done so, to deconfine prisons as per their local legislations, in order to improve leaving conditions in detention centres and facilitate respect of COVID-19 preventive measures.
“Poor hygiene conditions in places of detention and limited access to health care services exacerbates detainees vulnerability to COVID-19,” said Dr. Elena Leclerc, ICRC Health in Detention Programme Coordinator.
“Detainees should enjoy the same right to health care, as people in the community. It is therefore very important for authorities to consider detainees vulnerability factors while putting in place contingency plans. These include ages of detainees, weakened immune system, chronic illnesses and gender,” Leclerc added.
Speakers at the event included Honorable Commissioner Maria Terresa Manuela, Africa, the African Union Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa; Patrick Youssef, ICRC Regional Director for Africa; Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Deputy Director of Africa CDC; Dr. Elena Leclerc, ICRC Health in Detention Programme Coordinator; Dr. J.O.R BYABASHAIJA, Commissioner General of Uganda Prisons Service; and representative from International Organization of Migration, among others. This was the first of a series of 3 consultations planned with the Africa CDC, focusing on health care in detention during this Covid-19
ACSA owes its existence to the efforts of early Corrections and Prisons Administrators on the continent dating back to the 1930s. The first Conference of Commissioners of Prisons on the African soil was held in Mombasa, Kenya in 1941 to discuss issues pertaining to prisons. This was followed by another meeting in 1942 which took place in Nairobi, Kenya.
By Drake Nyamugabwa