Poor Prison Conditions Linked to Health Concerns

Inadequate conditions in Cam­bo­dia’s prisons are causing rampant health issues among inmates, local rights group Licadho said.

Licadho works to provide medical support in 12 of Cambodia’s 24 prisons. According to Licadho’s medical coordinator Man Sotheara, the majority of prisoners he works with are suffering from diarrhea and other illnesses related to poor diets, as well as respiratory problems resulting from overcrowded cells.

Numbers of how many inmates live in the 12 prisons were not available Monday, but Man So­theara said some cells hold up to 50 people.

“Sanitation, malnutrition lead them to fall ill. There is no good food for them to eat,” he said, adding that insufficient medical supplies are also an issue.

“We bring some medicines for prisoners and leave some for the prison health center,” otherwise some prison health centers wouldn’t have any supplies, he added.

Buth Borin, health bureau chief at the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prison, said that they are aware of health issues within prisons and are addressing the issue.

A program begun in 2007 in conjunction with the Health Ministry to train 50 of the country’s 100 prison health workers is still under way, Buth Borin said.

“The health knowledge of our officials is limited. We want them to be more skillful,” he said.

Heng Hak, director-general of the General Department of Pri­sons, said he hopes the Health Ministry program will ultimately expand the general capacity of pri­son health centers.

He said they are understaffed and lacking sufficient supplies.

“Human resources are insufficient…. Before we did not have cooperation with the Ministry of Health and we did not have enough medical supplies,” he said.

The Interior Ministry, he added, has recently completed a new pri­son in Kandal province and will soon complete four more prisons in Bat­tambang, Siem Reap, Ban­teay Meanchey and Preah Vihear pro­vinces.

There are also two prison renovations planned in Takeo and Kompong Thom provinces, he said.

“Those prisons follow standards and will be better places for the prisoners to live,” Heng Hak said. “The new prisons will have more air and more lighting,” he said.

He added that he believes these improved conditions will greatly reduce health issues related to overcrowding.

Licadho President Kek Galabru called on the Interior Ministry to raise the 1,500 riel it spends per day on each prisoner, which she said is not enough to ensure the health of prisoners.

“How can they survive with only 1,500 riel a day when goods are so expensive?” she asked.

Heng Hak said he has already requested that the government increase its food allowance for prisoners but hasn’t yet received an answer.

“We have reported to the government already,” he said, adding that some prisons have supplemented their food supplies by tending their own small vegetable gardens.

Health Minister Nuth Sokhom said he was too busy Monday to speak to a reporter.

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