The Malawi Prison Service says it has enhanced enforcement of coronavirus measures across the country’s prisons following two reported cases at Mzimba and Chichiri prisons.
Prisons spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba in an interview yesterday said the two–a prison officer at Mzimba Prison and an inmate at Chichiri Prison–were discovered after showing signs and symptoms of Covid-19 which led authorities to take them for testing.
The prison officer has since been admitted to Mzimba District Hospital while the inmate is at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre.
Shaba said the prison service is yet to establish how the two contracted the disease, adding they have implemented strict measures to minimise potential spread of the virus across the prisons.
He said: “Basically, we will continue to intensively enforce some of the measures we instituted earlier. For example, we will ensure we don’t mix new inmates for a 14-day period for observation before they can be moved to other cells.”
Shaba said they have also designated special cells at Chichiri, Maula, Mzuzu and Zomba prisons and they will be disinfecting strategic places within the prisons and restrict visitation days to weekends only.
“We also encourage prisoners to wash hands using soap that is being made available to them,” he said.
However, Shaba said the prison is waiting for Blantyre District Health Office officials to trace the infected inmate’s contact and get them tested once Covid-19 test kits are available.
Two weeks ago, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr. John Phuka said the country has a shortage of Covid-19 test kits due to shipment challenges of a previous consignment. But in an interview on Wednesday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the shipment is expected to arrive in the country next Tuesday.
Shaba said given conditions in prison, the infected inmate may have been in contact with over 50 people.
But he said contact tracing was done for the Mzimba prison officer and his contacts have since gone into self-isolation.
Asked to specify measures the prison is implementing to contain Covid-19 spread, Shaba said the prison service released about 3 000 prisoners two months ago as part of decongesting the prisons.
He said the Department of Disaster Management Affairs also provided all prisons with temporary shelters where Covid-19 suspects will be placed temporarily before being sent back to cells or hospitals and isolation centres when found positive.
A joint statement issued yesterday by Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), Paralegal Advisory Service Institute, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, Youth Watch Society, Irish Rule of Law, Reprieve and Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre, says decongestion is key amid the pandemic.
The civil society organisations (CSOs) have since urged government to urgently take concrete steps to drastically reduce congestion in prisons, particularly considering the shortage of test kits in the country,
The CSOs have further called President Lazarus Chakwera to consider pardoning prisoners who are terminally ill, older persons, people with tuberculosis or those that have served substantially part of their sentences.
In September last year, a Malawi Inspectorate of Prisons report urged government to decongest the country’s prisons on the basis that they were holding 14 778 inmates against an occupancy of 5 000.