The Malawi Prison Service (MPS) has run out of essential drugs in its 31 facilities nationwide, Nation on Sunday has established.
Coupled with pangs of hunger and seasonal ailments coming with the rainy season, authorities fear for prisoners’ lives as they see the likelihood of preventable deaths.
Available information shows that the current drug situation is a direct result of irregular to zero funding levels for health services in prisons such that MPS now has to solely depend on donations.
In an interview on Friday, MPS medical doctor Dr Henry Ndindi confirmed the drug situation, but could not discuss budget figures in detail.
“We don’t have all essential drugs for common ailments. We are talking of medication for scabies, painkillers and others, which is worrisome because during the rainy season, inmates are prone to diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea,” said Ndindi.
In fact, the situation is such that MPS has also run out of even disinfectants for cleaning ablution rooms, further increasing the likelihood of an outbreak of waterborne diseases.
“There is a big threat considering the already poor conditions and the rainy season where simple ailments may take prisoners’ lives,” said Ndindi.
According to Ndindi, MPS normally uses K5 million per month to buy drugs for MPS facilities which “we distribute to all prisons countrywide.”
But figures show that MPS has remained with only K2.5 million to buy drugs between now and the close of the 2013/14 fiscal year on June 30 2014.
On the other hand, MPS got nothing for drugs this month.
According to MPS current structures, the five main prisons of Chichiri, Zomba, Maula, Mzimba and Mzuzu have clinics headed by medical assistants.
The rest have officers oriented to carry out simple tests such as for malaria and prescribe medication such as LA.
But according to the Centre for Legal Assistance (CELA), an NGO working with MPS to ease inmates’ suffering, the situation at a prison such as Maula in Lilongwe requires more than just a dispensary.
According to CELA executive director Charles Kasambara, health delivery at Maula, for example, is compounded by poor infrastructure, lack of medical personnel and erratic funding.
“The population at Maula Prison definitely needs a fully-fledged health centre, not just a dispensary, with its own medical doctor,” he said.
To confirm the extent of congestion at Maula, the prison has ended up turning a sick bay CELA built with Norwegian funding into a cell where the sick and the healthy sleep together.
“Our concern is that you cannot mix health prisoners with those suffering from airborne and skin diseases,” said Kasambara, who nonetheless commended prison authorities for opening up to outsiders to help.
Maula Prison, which usually receives four packets of bactrim and amoxicillin a month—enough for 200 prisoners—is currently home to some 2 300 inmates.
“Unfortunately, some people are allergic to such drugs, which means they just live without treatment,” said Kasambara.
As of Friday, Maula had just a handful of drugs all expiring this month and February donated by some well-wisher who came to treat prisoners at the facility last week.
Meanwhile, CELA has asked government to implement a 2009 court ruling which ordered that prison conditions should improve within 18 months.
But Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa said government has been implementing the court order and a new maximum prison would be built in Lilongwe to reduce congestion.