(ERGO) – Five inmates in Beledweyne central prison in Somalia’s Hiran region were confirmed to have COVID19 after a round of testing, as concerns rise over containing spread of the virus in the overcrowded prison conditions.
Steps have been taken to quarantine guards, cooks and other prisoners who had been in contact with the five infected prisoners, according to the prison authorities and health officials.
Dr Abdulkadir Mohamud Ibrahim, Hiran’s head of COVID19 at the Hirshabelle regional state ministry of health, said they tested nearly 30 of the total 48 prisoners on 15 March and would test the rest during another visit next week. Those who tested negative were now in cells separate from those yet to be tested.
The five inmates with the disease were sharing a room, as the prison has no medical facility. Two of them are women, and all five are aged between 20 and 35 years.
“We went there on Monday after we were called about prisoners displaying Tuberculosis (TB) and COVID19 symptoms,” said Dr Abdulkadir. “The inmates who tested positive for COVID19 were all well. None of them was out of breath or needed oxygen. All they had was fever.”
A youth group conducting a COVID19 awareness campaign in the prison had informed the authorities about suspected cases. Three inmates were also diagnosed with TB and were prescribed medicine. The youth group sprayed the washrooms, cells and dining areas of the prison to disinfect them.
Beledweyne central prison’s commander, Dirow Hassan Amine, noted that inmates had not been wearing facemasks. With each cell holding up to 10 prisoners, social distancing had not been possible. He moved some inmates to the outdoor compound of the prison, where shelter conditions are inadequate, to minimise the numbers in each cell. The prison also lacked hand-washing facilities.
Dirow said the prison was now facing danger of a COVID19 outbreak. He requested the Hiran regional administration and the courts sentencing prisoners to help with the challenges of medical care for COVID19 patients, and with access to additional cells.
“I haven’t received any medicine to give the affected prisoners, but I informed the courts that brought them here,” said the prison commander. “The prison doesn’t have an ambulance making it hard to transport an ailing inmate to the nearest hospital for treatment.”
The spokesman for Hiran regional administration, Abdi Mamin Elmi, said they had supplied facemasks and sanitizers that were now being used by the inmates. The administration was planning to set up a quarantine facility within the prison in the coming days with the help of the Hirshabelle ministry of health.
“As an administration we don’t think it is a good idea to quarantine the inmates in public hospitals and put our forces there to guard them,” said Abdi. “It would create panic among the public and we don’t want that as an administration.”
According to Dr Abdulkadir, the number of COVID19 cases reported in Beledweyne has risen sharply, with 101 individuals testing positive in March, and 27 of those patients needing to be hospitalised.