Sick inmates suffer as jails lack docs
The injured and ailing general prisoners are denied of essential health services as the country's prisons severely lack doctors and pathological equipment.
The VIP prisoners have access to health care both in and outside jails but thousands of their fellow inmates are vulnerable to various chronic diseases because of the sorry state of medical facilities in jails.
Of the 67 prisons in the country, excepting the two special jails for Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, only 12 have hospitals with one or no doctor while the rest 55 neither have hospitals nor doctors.
These 12 prison hospitals, however, do not have any specialist and apparatus to carry out pathological tests. And, interestingly, the prison directorate is yet to have an ambulance to carry its patients.
Many prison officials themselves call these hospitals "first aid centres" that offer treatment only for minor diseases like fever, dysentery and skin infection, a common disease in all the overcrowded jails.
Prison officials said they have only 16 doctors against 77 posts to look after about 90,000 inmates at the 69 jails including the two special jails in Dhaka and one women's jail at Kashimpur.
Of them, three male and one female doctors are appointed at the Dhaka Central Jail, the largest prison accommodating 10,400 prisoners, while one doctor is assigned to attend Hasina and Khaleda.
"Not only the general prisoners, everyone in the jails suffer because of the shortage of doctors and other health care facilities," said Maj Shamsul Haider Siddiqui, deputy inspector general (DIG) of prisons.
While admitting their failure to provide proper treatment in jails, he denied the allegation that sick prisoners are not attended.
According to jail officials, many prisoners come to the jails with injuries in hands, legs and other parts of the body, but treatment for such injuries is not available at the jail hospitals.
"The injured prisoners often cry for help in pains," said an official of Dhaka Central Jail, adding, "These prisoners need immediate treatment."
The ailing prisoners also have to wait in long queues for receiving medicines like paracetamol tablets, oral saline or ointments.
“We attend 250-300 patients every day to treat only minor problems," said one of the four doctors at the Dhaka jail hospital, seeking anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media.
He said the general prisoners are also being deprived since all the beds at the jail hospital are occupied by the VIP prisoners.
Over the years the number of prisoners saw a steady rise but there was hardly any step to set up hospitals in all jails or improve health care facilities at the existing jail hospitals.
Under the circumstances, the prison authorities are entirely depended on treatment outside the jails. "Due to the absence of pathological tests and specialists, critical patients are sent to hospitals and clinics outside the jails," said the DIG prisons.
But this is time-consuming as in most cases the ailing prisoners have to wait for a long time to get a vehicle.
Prisoners at the jails outside the capital, especially those in a critical condition, suffer more as they are sent to Dhaka for treatment.
Forty-nine such prisoners with various illness and injuries are now admitted to the 172-bed Dhaka Central Jail hospital.
"The condition of many of them is serious but we cannot provide them with the required treatment," said a prison doctor, alleging that the jail authorities give priority to the VIP prisoners. He expressed fear that this might cause permanent health hazards to many such prisoners.