British Parliamentarians find shockingly high rates of TB in Zambian prisons

Last Thursday saw the conclusion of a health fact-finding mission to Zambia, where senior British Parliamentarians called on the Government, international development agencies and civil society members to urgently improve the state of the country’s prisons amid shockingly high rates of TB and HIV.

During the mission, the cross-party delegation of UK parliamentarians visited world-class health facilities in Zambia, including sites working on AIDS vaccine development and TB diagnostics, as well as health clinics serving hard-to-reach communities. The delegation also met with Government ministers and senior officials to speak about the state of the countries health.

Commenting on the Zambian people’s participation in efforts to control TB and HIV, Lord Skelmersdale, a member of the delegation noted:

“We are hugely impressed by the spirit of volunteering in the country. We have seen members of the public, including village chiefs, giving up their time to educate others about TB and HIV. Critically, these people are bringing the message into the community that TB is curable, which is not only commendable but moreover serves as an example to us all.”

However, despite the impressive work being carried out by health workers in Zambia, the state of the country’s prisons is cause for particular concern. The parliamentarians witnessed cramped living conditions, poor infrastructure including severe lack of clinical technicians and inadequate screening processes, factors which have been found to promote the spread of diseases like TB and HIV.

Following a visit to Lusaka Central Prison on Wednesday, Baroness Jolly, also attending the delegation, noted:

“We welcome the Government’s transparency in opening the doors of its prisons to international visitors, yet we are shocked that the conditions in Lusaka Central Prison appear to barely meet any of the internationally recognised standards for the treatment of prisoners. Of particular concern are extremely poor sanitation and cramped quarters, both of which are drivers of disease within the prison population.”

Fellow delegate, Lord Ribeiro, a surgeon and former prison inspector, added:

“We witnessed the progress made in TB and HIV screening at Lusaka Central, Prison thanks to the World Health Organisation project entitled TB-REACH. However, more funds are needed for prison infrastructure and health services to ensure these vital gains are not lost. Catching TB is not part of a prisoner’s sentence.”

The delegation has now returned home, bringing back with them some important messages about Zambia’s potential to fight the twin epidemics of TB and HIV.

Stephen Mosley MP, who also joined the delegation, summarised:

“We have learnt a lot about the Zambian people’s strength and resolve and seen some great health programmes during our short time here. It is left for us to go home and ensure that just as we are reaching a turning point in the fight against these diseases we maintain our focus on bringing an end to TB and HIV.”