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Overcrowded Prisons Serve as Incubators For Tuberculosis

A nurse prepares an injection to administer to a tuberculosis (TB) patient, 7 Apr 2010

Overcrowded prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa are proving to be dangerous incubators for tuberculosis say researchers at a recent conference in Cameroon.

The prisons of Sub-Saharan Africa are causing tuberculosis rates to rise in the region's prisons, according to University of Yaounde researcher Christopher Kuaban.

"The reasons for this is that there is overcrowding, there is promiscuity; a lot of promiscuity, there is malnutrition. Like I said already, the health services are inexistent or not. There is poor ventilation of the cells, and you have very old prisons that were built in the colonial area when the populations were small. We have been going on now for 50 years, these prisons have not been increased in size," he said.

Kuaban added that the Newbell prison in Douala, which was constructed in 1930, is one example where the TB-infection rate continues to soar due to massive overcrowding. "And the number of persons put in detention or in prisons, put in these facilities is more than the capacity that was foreseen. The Doula central prison was built for 700 persons," he says, "now it houses about 3,200 to 3,500 persons."

According to Kuaban, preventive measures that would stop the rise of tuberculosis include providing better healthcare, expanding and ventilating prisons and setting up comprehensive control programs. He adds that some prisons in Cameroon have begun to take preventative steps.

"Some prisons have started now, enrolling, when they are enrolling their inmates, they screen them at the gates for TB," Kuaban explains, "What is lacking still, we should do planned massive screening of all prisoners, sometime each year, at least once or twice each year."

He says despite these new government measures to address the problem, implementation often remains slow due to lack of funding.