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Prisoners must have adequate access to treatment

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MEDIA report on Monday said 63 jails out of a total of 68 in the country have no doctor for more than 1.5 lakh prisoners. The disclosure is highly disturbing and need immediate attention. How can it be believable that almost all prisons have no physicians, no medicine and such other healthcare facilities for thousands of inmates living in congested environment. It is invariably a serious violation of basic human rights that all human beings are entitled to health care and more so for prisoners as they have no liberty to visit a doctor. There is no doubt they are subject to serious negligence by jail authorities because they are treated as sub-standard human beings. Every jail has a hospital or treatment ward but Jail officials are misusing medicine and other supplies to their own benefits depriving the inmates.   

The country's overcrowded jails lack adequate ventilation, water supply and cleaning where most prisoners suffer from stomach, skin and such other killer diseases. Poor prisoners are helpless in this situation where lack of timely treatment is only aggravating their health problems. We can't leave them in utter neglect; they deserve better treatment.

The situation in Dhaka Central Jail, which being located in the capital, is somewhat good with two physicians to run a dilapidated hospital inside the prison. But over 111 posts of doctors are remaining vacant in other jails throughout the country where name shake hospitals exist without doctors and medicine. Some other reports said only nine ambulances are available to jails across the country to shift prisoners to hospitals. It just shows the utter neglect that the jail population is exposed without timely access to life saving treatment. The condition has further worsened recently as many nurses in jail hospitals have quit their jobs leaving jails without physicians and nurses even to attend emergency calls. 

Disclosure said in last one and a half months at least seven prisoners died after they had been taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital from Dhaka Central Jail. The fact is that very delayed treatment was made available to them pushing them to death. It is not clear how many inmates die each year for lack of real time treatment but in some estimates the number is no less than thousand. But such death is insignificant to the authorities because jail inmates are not treated with compassion and dignity.

It is true that every jail has a hospital or hospital ward but the service is mostly available to hardcore criminals and wealthy and politically powerful people in exchange of regular payment to doctors and jail officials to live in better condition. Most hospital authorities use them to mint illegal money.

Jail authorities claim that they transfer prisoners to city hospitals after an inmate report serious illness. But it is more said than done. What is noticeable is that massive corruption and misuse of resources are denying access to treatment to prisoners in need for such treatment. We suggest the situation must improve without delay.

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