On the midnight of April 26, Jahir Uddin complained of severe chest pain at Dhaka Central Jail. The jail authorities decided to take him to DMCH since the hospital inside the jail does not have facilities to tackle any emergency situation.
Jail guard Mohammed Shawon whisked 70-year-old Jahir to Dhaka Medical College Hospital in an ambulance -- only to hear from doctors around 2:00am that he was dead already.
Jahir had been serving life term in his wife's murder case since 2008. In the first week of April, his son Anowar Hossain met him in Kashimpur jail when he said he might be shifted to Dhaka for treatment.
“Finally, we got his death news on April 27,” Anowar said, claiming that his father died for not getting proper treatment.
Jahir's case is not an isolated one; The Daily Star found at least seven similar cases seen at DMCH alone in the last one and a half months. Prisoners died after they had been taken there from jail with sudden complaints of health issues.
Jahangir Kabir, senior jail super of Dhaka Central Jail, said the jail authority would transfer prisoners immediately to the hospital inside jail after they fell sick.
When their condition gets serious, they are transferred to different public hospitals since the jail does not have adequate medical facilities and doctors.
“That [delay in treatment] may result in deaths of some prisoners,” the jail official said.
Looking into how insufficient the healthcare facilities are in prisons, the correspondents got staggering ratio of doctors to patients seeking treatment.
The Dhaka jail has a 172-bed hospital with only two doctors providing some sort of treatment to at least 350-400 patients on a regular basis. Some 140-150 patients remain admitted every day.
“It is too difficult to ensure treatment of the huge number of patients…. If any serious case appears at midnight, it becomes tough to deal with that,” Jahangir said.
One of the jail doctors, Biplob Kanti Biswas said they referred 10 to 15 patients to different government hospitals daily for better treatment.
Regarding healthcare facilities, Inspector General of Prisons Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin said only six doctors were there in five out of 68 jails across the country. As many as 111 posts of doctors have remained vacant. Only nine ambulances are available to shift prisoners from different jails to hospitals.
The civil surgeon concerned, where the 63 jails without doctors are located, usually sends a medical officer to inspect the health of inmates. Some jails do not get the doctor's visit on a regular basis. When an inmate becomes seriously ill, he or she is transferred to a public hospital.
The situation has become worse after diploma nurses submitted resignations to join jobs in higher positions offered by the health ministry, the prison chief said.
“We have already informed the ministries of finance and health about the shortage of doctors, nurses and ambulances but they are yet to respond,” the IG prison said while briefing reporters on the four-day-long regional conference of Asia and Pacific Prison that will begin tomorrow.
He blamed the inadequate infrastructure and manpower for some inmates' staying in public hospitals for long because, he said, the jails did not have the capacity to determine their health condition and so the authorities would not take them back to prisons until the hospitals released them.
A couple of cases were reported recently of influential people staying in city hospitals at their expense on the pretext that they were sick. However, there are also cases of prisoners without power and wealth who died due to lack of medical facilities in prisons.
Amzad Hossain, jailer of Rangpur Central Jail, said that out of 1842 inmates, 50 to 60 sought treatment at the outdoor daily. Of them, 18-20 are admitted to the hospital in jail.
The jail does not have any doctor as such. One physician has been employed recently on temporary basis. The jail depends on a prison cell at Rangpur Medical College Hospital at times of emergency.