South Africa’s overcrowded, poorly ventilated prisons are “melting pots” for tuberculosis infection, according to Professor Robin Wood from the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre.
Speaking shortly before the start of the national TB conference, Prof Wood said that TB was the most common cause of death in prisoners.
Our prisons currently have 40 000 more inmates than they should, and at least ten including King William’s Town, Johannesburg Medium B and Mount Frere prisons are over 200% full, said Wood.
Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town is 238% full, holding 4 162 prisoners instead of 1 872.
“There are 60 to 80 people in the cells for those awaiting trial [in Pollsmoor]. Each inmate occupies a space smaller than a single mattress for 23 hours a day,” said Wood.
OVercrowding a problem
“Overcrowding is the major factor driving TB infection in prisons. Communal cells holding over 20 people are a total disaster. But so is keeping prisoners locked up in the cells for 23 hours a day – that’s a human rights abuse. The cells have poor ventilation and makes it easy for TB to spread.”
International research from other countries showed that up to 8% of TB infection in communities originated in prisons, and a prisoner was 26 times more likely to get TB than a free person.
“In TB research I have conducted in Cape Town, the biggest risk factor for a person getting TB was HIV, followed by incarceration,” said Wood.
(Health-e News, June 2012)
Africa's deadly combo- TB and HIV