One prisoner has died from severe diarrhea and more than 40 other inmates are suffering from the same symptoms in what could be a cholera outbreak at Prey Veng Provincial Prison, officials said.
“In Prey Veng prison one died because of cholera…. The number has increased to 42,” said Heng Hak, general director of the Interior Ministry’s prison department.
However, Dr Tep Sam Oeun, a member of the quick reaction unit of the Prey Veng provincial health department, said that tests are being conducted to determine if the inmate died of cholera, but results are not yet available.
The inmate who died Thursday was suffering from severe diarrhea when he passed away at a public hospital, Dr Sam Oeun said, adding that since then three more prisoners have been taken from the jail and placed in the provincial hospital. Around 40 other prisoners with chronic diarrhea are being treated within the prison walls, he said.
“We gave the patients in serious condition IVs [intravenous drips], while we told the rest to take care and keep full of water by drinking clean water and we are making sure the place they live is clean,” he added.
Va Yorn, director of the Prey Veng provincial prison, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The death on Thursday at the Prey Veng jail brings the total number of prisoners to die so far this year to 46, while 60 inmates died throughout 2009, Mr Hak said.
Earlier this week, officials confirmed the deaths due to illness of five prisoners in the space of five days, July 7 to July 11, at Kompong Cham Provincial Prison. Two more deaths have since been reported at the same prison.
The spate of deaths among the country’s prison population from disease this month comes as concerns grow about overcrowding and disease in Cambodia’s prisons, and warning that that the country’s prison system could become the world’s most overcrowded by 2018.
According to the report by local rights group Licadho on prison overcrowding, there were 64.6 inmates per 100,000 citizens in Cambodia in 2006. Today, that number has jumped nearly 40 percent to 89.4 prisoners per 100,000 people.
In the 18 prisons monitored by Licadho, which hold about 90 percent of Cambodia’s total prison population, there were a total of 12,646 inmates as of June, or 175 percent of total prison capacity.
“Some of these prisons date back to the early 1900s and are scarcely fit for habitation. Cambodia’s prisons are already starved for resources; overcrowding only makes the situation worse,” the report stated.
Mr Hak, the prisons’ director, said on Friday that an investigation would be launched into the latest reported deaths in prison.
“All the deaths in the prisons are suspicious,” Mr Hak. “I am waiting for the report, then we will choose a method of response,” he said.