A senior prison officer is warning of a possible coronavirus outbreak in Ghana’s prisons as the country confirms six cases of the deadly global pandemic in three days.
In an article exposing among others things, the health lapses in the country’s 44 prisons, Deputy Public Chief Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Prisons Service DSP Daniel Machator, revealed the prevailing environment portends fertile grounds for the spread of the disease.
With an overcrowding rate of about 50 per cent in Ghana’s prisons, he stated, prisoners jostle for space on the floor in their cells just to catch some sleep, a situation he noted, makes it difficult to practice social distancing and creates conditions for the spread of the covid-19 virus.
He described most of Ghana’s prisons as “remnants of the colonial era” revealing that such facilities “are not purpose built and so do not offer environments that support healthy living”.
“They are mostly not properly aerated and or illuminated allowing easy transmission of diseases,” he indicated in the article titled “Prison conditions and Ghana’s fight against coronavirus”.
In his view, the continuous admission of newly convicted persons coupled with visits to prisoners by family and friends was a major concern as there are fears that visitors and or prison staff may pass on the disease to prisoners.
“Though protocols to prevent the spread of communicable diseases are activated whenever required, overcrowding renders the efforts somewhat counterproductive,” DSP Machator stated.
The protocols, he said, include screening of prisoners and all persons who enter prisons, provision of sanitizers and running water for use at the gate and vantage points inside prisons, wearing of face masks by prison staff and visitors, quarantining and referral of suspected cases to appropriate health facilities among others.
However, DSP Machator said the prisons are challenged as they lack basic necessities like water and ablution facilities which support hygiene.
He cited the Nsawam Medium Security Prison which has about 3,500 prisoners sharing facilities originally meant for about 790 people.
Infirmaries nonexistent or overstretched
The deputy Prisons PRO said also revealed how infirmaries and clinics are almost nonexistent in the country’s prisons.
Apart from the Nsawam Medium, Ankaful and Koforidua prisons which he said have “relatively more resourced health facilities, most of our prisons operate near-empty infirmaries”.
“Some prisons lack infirmaries altogether and so depend on limited drugs kept in first aid boxes. It is obvious from the above picture that, most of Ghana’s 44 prisons would be hard hit in the event of any deadly outbreak like the COVID-19”.
DSP Machator said the country’s prisons have over the years suffered outbreaks of scabies, tuberculosis, hepatitis and the H1N1 influenza.
“The outbreak at Ankaful Maximum Security Prison resulted in about 300 prisoners as well as about 100 officers and their dependents suffering from the H1N1 influenza” he stated.
He has thus underscored the need for government to consider Ghana’s prisons in the disbursement of the 100 million-dollar fund announced by President Nana Akufo-Addo to fight coronavirus.
“Prison health facilities require expansion, materials and equipment to meet the needs of our over 15,000 prisoners as well as officers and visitors to our facilities,” he suggested.
For him, it is paramount for Ghanaians to see prison health as public health.
DSP Machator said it would be appropriate for government and corporate Ghana to invest in the construction of prisons in the newly created regions in particular, to help decongest the existing facilities.
That, he stated, would help improve prison conditions to an extent and reduce the spread of communicable diseases in the process.