The Malawi Prison Service has embarked on mass testing of inmates for Covid 19 at Chichiri Prison where many cases of the virus have been confirmed.
Prison spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba yesterday said the exercise started last week and the first results were not yet out by yesterday when the service had 155 confirmed cases.
The number of cases in prisons represents 3.05 percent of the total national cases standing at 5 125.
Said Shaba: “We commenced the exercise last week, but results are not yet in. When they are out, we will share with you. At the moment, we have 155 confirmed cases across the country.”
Due to inadequate test kits, Shaba said the mass testing will only be at Chichiri Prison for now while other prisons will test inmates that have symptoms of Covid-19.
If one tests positive, they are put in designated cells, according to Shaba who added that at Chichiri Prison, the built by the Anadkat family is being used for isolation.380-capacity structure
On her part, Blantyre District Health Office (DHO) spokesperson Chrissy Banda said they have provided 2 000 test kits to Chichiri Prison and that data analysis is ongoing.
In his daily updates on the status of the pandemic in the country on Sunday, Presidential Task Force on Covid 19 co-chairperson Dr John Phuka said 42 of the 46 cases recorded on Sunday were identified during mass screening at Chichiri Prison.
According to Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), the country’s prisons currently hold 14 000 people against the design capacity of 5 000 inmates.
Earlier, Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango said Malawi is one of 22 countries in the world whose prisons exceed capacity by as much as 200 percent, meaning measures such as social distancing are impossible, thereby exposing the inmates to a high risk of contracting Covid-19.
President Lazarus Chakwera last week pardoned 499 inmates as part of measures to decongest the prisons.
Epidemiologist Titus Divala said the situation in prisons is dire and that to minimise deaths, there is need to conduct risk stratification by identifying inmates who have the highest risk of infection or dying.
He said: “These need to be urgently tested and isolated from the rest of the inmates. Their sentences can be reviewed for possible pardon. They should, however, not be put in one block to avoid devastating outbreaks.
“The prison itself needs to prepare for infection through detailed sensitisation of inmates to the disease and its prevention, including physical distancing, masks, cough and hand hygiene [and] putting in place protocols for identifying and referring sick inmates to treatment centres. Ensure adequate protective wear for staff and inmates.”
On his part, Society of Medical Doctors president Victor Mithi said prisons are especially because people live in a closed environment.vulnerable to Covid-19
“Prisoners have limited access to masks and other protective equipment. So, the best approach is to ensure that the facilities are decongested by releasing those with minor offences and on those remaining we have to conduct massive testing,” he said.
Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 5,072 cases including 161 deaths. Of these cases, 1,084 are imported infections and 3,988 are locally transmitted. The country has so far conducted 39,214 Covid-19 tests in 45 Covid-19 testing sites.