Call to track the spread of diseases in prison

Prison health authorities should be tracking the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis in jails, the Irish Penal Reform Trust has urged.

The Irish Prison Service is responsible for the health and wellbeing of prisoners, but the IPRT wants the Department of Health to be involved as well.

The IPRT said the monitoring of infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis C, and TB should be urgently addressed as part of a comprehensive review of prison healthcare.

A European project, Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening Infectious Disease Monitoring — Mapping Report on Ireland, published yesterday, addresses the gap in prison monitoring practices.

The EU-funded report, led by Harm Reduction International, argues for transparent procedures around monitoring infectious diseases in prison, including the publication of prevalence data.

The report also highlights the need for the expansion of harm reduction approaches in jail, including needle exchange programmes to reduce the spread of blood-borne infections.

It recommends the provision of naloxone to individuals at high risk of opioid overdose when they are released from prison.

Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids and may be combined within the same pill as an opioid to decrease the risk of misuse.

The inextricable links between social exclusion, drug usage, crime, and prison are among the central findings of the report.

It finds that the transient nature of the prison population, both with the prison system and upon release back into the community, meant that “every attempt” must be made to ensure continuity of care for those diagnosed with an infectious disease in prison.

The IPRT that campaigns for the protection of human rights in places of detention said it was crucial that there was continuity of care for prisoners when they were released to protect themselves and the wider community.

IPRT executive director, Deirdre Malone, said currently the Department of Health has no responsibility for prison health care, and that was contrary to best practice.

“If you want to ensure that prisons have a decent healthcare system and there is a continuity of care the Department of Health must be involved. We can also ensure that the fundamental right to health is protected for everyone, including prisoners,” said Ms Malone.

“As well as ensuring that effective monitoring of infectious diseases is included in regular inspection mechanisms, a whole-system review of the prison healthcare service is urgently required to ensure that the service is capable of meeting the wide range of complex physical and mental health needs in prison.”

Ms Malone said the urgency of a comprehensive review had previously been identified by the Inspector of Prisoners and also by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture that found in November 2015 that the healthcare service in some Irish prisons was in a state of crisis.

“Imprisonment by its nature exacerbates mental and physical health issues, while substandard or overcrowded conditions can contribute to the transmission of diseases,” she said.

“It is crucial that failings in prison health monitoring and healthcare provision do not cultivate more serious problems for the community in future.”


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