At least 100 prison inmates in the country’s flood-afflicted provinces have fallen ill due to the recent heavy rains, government officials said yesterday. Rights groups said the true number of sick prisoners was likely higher.
Nguon Lay, director of Pursat Provincial Prison, said approximately 70 of his 260 prisoners had been infected with colds in the past week, some of them severe, a sharp jump from the handful of cases recorded over the Pchum Ben holidays earlier this month.
While the 200 doses of cold medicine the government provided last week and a visit from the staff of rights group Licadho bearing additional doses have helped stem the spread of infection, Mr Lay said, the prison’s supply has already run dry.
“The provided medicine to treat the sick prisoners ran out this morning, which makes me very worried,” said Mr Lay, who has placed a request for more doses with the province.
As a precaution, he said the prison had also been separating healthy inmates from the ill during the night.
Prison officials in Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong and Kompong Thom provinces each said 12 to 20 inmates had also fallen ill inside their own facilities recently during the heavy rains.
“A dozen inmates are being treated here for diarrhea, but the situation is not yet critical because we have given them medication on time,” said Koh Kong Provincial Prison Director Sam Ol Thearith.
The main concern now, he said, was food supply.
“The major issue we are facing now is preparing the basic meals for inmates, since more than 100 rows of vegetables have been completely destroyed by flash floods,” Mr Thearith said.
Heng Hak, director-general of the general department of prisons, said he had not received any reports of rain-induced illnesses but confirmed that at least five prisons have suffered flooding.
“However, the flooded prisons have not suffered critical harm to [the prisoners’] lives,” he said. “We have alerted all those flooded prisons to be ready to move inmates” to higher ground.
But human rights groups yesterday said the government’s infection figures could be well short of the mark.
Nhean Sarin, a medical team leader for Licadho who oversaw the group’s visit to Pursat Provincial Prison yesterday, said at least 100 inmates were sick with the flu at that one facility alone.