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Dealing With Non Communicable Diseases In The African Prison System

Dealing with Non Communicable diseases in the African prison system

In my previous posts I explored the epidemic of NCDs in various African countries and the lack of framework in place to combat these diseases. As I explored more, I became increasingly more interested on how the African prison systems were dealing with the influx of NCDs. As expected information on this topic was not readily available. However information on the prison systems in affluent countries were available. Analyzing this data, I have speculated the conditions in African prisons and the trends that we may see in the future.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of information we have on prisoners and NCDs come from high income countries yet, a staggering 80% of deaths from prisoners with NCDs comes from low to middle income countries[1].  This discrepancy alone should trigger alarm bells.

What is the issue at hand?

Let’s take the situation in Africa. As we have explored previously, NCDs are a relatively new epidemic and although head way has been made in the form of establishing public campaigns in certain countries such as Kenya[2]. Many countries do not have adequate health care to deal with those suffering from NCDs. Furthermore the lack of public knowledge of how NCD’s can be prevented plays a huge role in the increase of people becoming affected by it.

The issue in the prison system as I see it is two pronged. On one hand prisoners who are already suffering from NCDs may not be given adequate access to medical treatment they need. The cause of NCDs have been attributed to poor diet, lack of physical exercise, smoking and alcohol abuse[3]. Given that the prisoner’s diet tends to contain more sodium and over or under provisions of calories, as well as being limited in the amount of physical exercise they can do, this creates a recipe for disaster. According to research, prisoners are also more likely to smoke and consume more quantities of harmful alcohol. This brings us to the second prong of the issue. A prisoner who is healthy becomes subjected to all the key components of developing NCDs in prison, then their likelihood of developing a disease is increased. Combine this with the lack of knowledge surrounding NCDs in Africa and one can only imagine the dire conditions that can be created in prison systems.

What is the solution?

Every single individual has the right ‘the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right.’[4] To me, this has even a stronger statement when it comes to prisoners who are in the mercy of the system they are placed in. The governments of every country has the responsibility to develop an framework that also encompasses these individuals and protect them from the risks of developing NCDs as well as access to proper medical treatment if they are diagnosed with a disease.  Not only this but statistics and research should be conducted and released so to provide a clear picture of the situation. As stated most of the information available is collected from higher income countries. If proper analysis is to be made, we need all information from lower and middle income countries too. Analyzing the trend of NCDs in affluent countries, one can hope that eventually the causes of NCDs will become public knowledge and research will be conducted on the African prison systems. However how many lives will be lost before this is done?

Koshiki is a Health and Human Rights Advocate for Engage Africa Foundation. She holds her Masters in Peace Operations, Humanitarian Law and Conflict from the National University of Ireland, Galway. She currently resides in Vancouver, Canada.

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[2] The Kenyan government has been reviewing the National Health Policy in relation to NCDs and also have incorporated a national campaign to raise awareness.

[3] Ibid 1

[4] World Health Organization Constitution and also see



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