Death Raises Questions Over Prison Health Care

The death of a second prisoner at Prey Sar prison’s Correctional Center I on Saturday has caused rights groups to question the quality of medical treatment at the prison.

Muong Phal, 64, who was serving a three-year sentence for a drug conviction, contracted pancreatic cancer about a year ago, said prison director Mong Kimheng. The prisoner succumbed to the disease early Saturday evening at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, he said.

According to the Mayo Clinic in the US, pancreatic cancer is usually fatal, even when detected in its earliest stages.

Men Sothy, monitor of rights group Adhoc, claimed Sunday that Muong Phal was mistreated by prison medical officials, who he said should have sent the inmate to the hospital as soon as it became apparent that he was suffering from a very serious illness.

“Muong Phal fell ill one year ago and was not provided good medical treatment in the prison,” he said.

Muong Phal’s condition worsened severely in mid-March, but he was not sent to Preah Monivong Hospital until April 19. Muong Phal was then transferred to Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital on April 25, said Men Sothy.

“The treatment of his disease should not have been delayed,” he said.

Muong Phal’s death follows the April 28 passing of 21-year-old CCI prisoner Yan Sok Kea, whose death relatives blamed on the delay of prison officials to send him to hospital.

A prison researcher for local rights group Licadho, Chheav Hourlay, said Sunday that prison health centers in Cambodia in general lack sufficient supplies.

“There is a lack of medicine…. The way they provide healthcare to the prisoners is by not providing healthcare.” he said.

Mong Kimheng rejected claims that Prey Sar does not provide adequate medicine when ill patients demand treatment.

“We have provided them with enough medicine,” he said, adding that Muong Phal’s death was the natural result of aging and illness.

“It is the nature of human life,” he said. “Not only prisoners, but everyone will become ill and die…. Why do human rights groups care about only a few people who die in prison and try to criticize us?” he asked.

According to Muong Phal’s 35-year-old niece, who spoke Sunday on the condition of anonymity, repeated requests beginning one year ago for her uncle be hospitalized were rejected by prison officials.

Mong Kimheng said that he never rejected any such requests by the family. Two CCI prisoners died in all of 2007, he added.

Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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