With the continued threat of tuberculosis spreading among the country’s inmates, the government is working on a plan to monitor and treat the airborne disease in prisons, officials said yesterday.
Some 132 prisoners tested positive for tuberculosis during 2009, according to General Liv Mauv, deputy director general of the General Department of Prisons. That’s almost 1 percent of the official prison population of about 13,500.
The number of tuberculosis-positive inmates fell to 119 for the first six months of 2010, according to Gen Mauv, who said some 2009 patients were cured while new cases were also recorded, but could not provide these figures.
In comparison, some 235 inmates tested positive for HIV/AIDS during the first half of this year, with 12 of that group also infected with tuberculosis.
But Gen Mauv warned that these records-based on data gathered by NGOs and Ministry of Health officials-are incomplete and that the actual prevalence of tuberculosis in the prisons is believed to be higher.
“The spread of the disease is a big concern because tuberculosis is a kind of communicable disease with which it is easy to be infected,” he said. “In some prisons, because of the limited prison cells, the TB-infected prisoners are not detained in separate cells from non-TB-infected inmates.”
Mao Tan Eang, director for the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control, said too little information was available to say whether the prevalence of tuberculosis in the prison population was rising or falling.
“We have no idea yet on that, but what we know is that usually the prevalence in prisons is higher than among the general population,” Mr Tan Eang said.
According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization, prevalence of tuberculosis in the general Cambodia population ranges anywhere from about 0.4 to 1 percent. Cambodia is ranked 21 out of 22 “high-burden” countries that account for 80 percent of all cases of the contagious disease, a ranking based on absolute number of cases. India tops the list.
The government in Cambodia is working on a new plan to control tuberculosis in the prisons, which it hopes to implement by 2015, Mr Tan Eang said. That will include ensuring that prison staff are trained in the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of the disease.
With this in mind, the government is assessing the tuberculosis- and HIV-related needs in all of the country’s prisons in partnership with NGOs and other agencies, he said.
Catholic Relief Services is currently working with the National Center for Tuberculosis to do an assessment of seven prisons, with a report expected in September, according to CRS Head of Programming Kellie Hynes. Last year nine prisons were assessed.
Ms Hynes said the report will offer “general guidance on the next steps to take,” as well as whether an “intervention” is required in a prison.
Globally, the prevalence of tuberculosis in prison populations generally ranges from about 1 to 6 percent, whereas it is around a half percent on average in the general population, according to Rajendra Yadav, stop TB medical officer for the WHO.
One of the reasons prevalence tends to be higher in prison populations is because “TB is a disease of crowding,” Mr Yadav said.
In a report last month on Cambodia’s fast-growing inmate population, local rights group Licadho said some prisons are filled to more than three times their capacity.