An ongoing screening the country’s largest prison has found that 4 percent of detainees tested positive for tuberculosis, far higher than the rate of 0.7 percent among the general population. Tuberculosis remains a serious problem facing Cambodia’s severely overcrowded prisons, health workers said.
Seventy-six cases of tuberculosis were found among 1,783 inmates screened between February and August at Prey Sar Correctional Center One, which houses 2,700 detainees, said Emmanuel Lavieuville, head of mission at Medecins Sans Frontieres, which plans to screen three Phnom Penh prisons for TB and HIV. Screening at CC1 is not yet complete.
Tuberculosis is more prevalent in prisons because detainees are in close proximity, especially if there is overcrowding, Mr Lavieuville said.
“If 100 people are in one cell and you have one that has TB, he passes it onto his cellmates. That’s why it is higher.”
Eighty-five percent of inmates screen at CC1 consented to HIV testing and about 3 percent were HIV positive, which is a higher than the number with the sexually transmitted infection in the general population, he added.
The World Health Organization estimated 0.68 percent of Cambodians had TB in 2008 and the Health Ministry projected a 0.7 percent prevalence of HIV in 2010.
Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, regional medical delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that tuberculosis levels varied significantly between prisons caused by overcrowding, lack of ventilation, reduced health services and disadvantaged backgrounds of detainees.
“I would have expected the figure to be six to seven percent because the prevalence of TB in prisons worldwide is generally ten to fifty times the normal population,” Dr Eshaya-Chauvin said.
From the start of 2009 to August 2010 there were 315 cases of tuberculosis in eleven prisons where tuberculosis programs are being implemented with NGO support, said Team Bak Khim, deputy director of the National Center for TB and Leprosy Control.
Five hundred and twelve prisoners suffered from tuberculosis resulting in six deaths this year, said Liv Mauv, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, adding that infected inmates were isolated.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)