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Mali: Tackling scabies outbreaks in prisons

05-05-2014 Operational Update

Over 2,600 detainees have been treated for scabies in an eradication campaign run by the Malian prison authorities, with the support of the ICRC, in the prisons of Sikasso, Kati and Bamako.

 

“During our most recent prison visits, we realized that scabies was a real problem,” said Ishukwe N’sindi, ICRC doctor. “Some inmates were covered in a rash from head to toe and complaining of skin irritation.”

Overcrowding makes prisons a prime breeding ground for certain diseases, especially skin infections, giving reason to focus scabies eradication efforts in these facilities more than elsewhere.

“More and more inmates were complaining of skin problems,” said Ali Diakité, director of Sikasso prison, in southern Mali. “So the authorities decided that we should treat everyone, including the prison staff. Buildings, clothing and the inmates’ bedding were also disinfected. The health-care centre in Sikasso and the ICRC were a great help in this task.”

The ICRC works in close cooperation with the detaining authorities and the National Health Directorate to improve detainees’ access to health care. Measures include ensuring that inmates undergo a medical examination when they first arrive, improving inmates’ access to health-care providers and stocking prison infirmaries with the necessary medicines.

Visiting people deprived of their liberty

In 2013, the ICRC visited more than 3,500 people held in police stations and in the detention centres of Bamako, Kati, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Sévaré, Timbuktu and Gao. These visits were taking place even before conflict broke out in the north, but were formalized with the signing of an agreement with the Malian government in April 2013. The agreement grants the ICRC permission to visit all places of detention and all detainees.

“When we visit a prison, our aim is to ensure that the conditions of detention for all inmates meet internationally recognized standards,” said Christoph Luedi, head of the ICRC delegation in Mali. “Whatever the reason for their incarceration, they have the right to be treated with humanity. Their physical and mental well-being must be upheld and their basic needs met.”

During these visits, ICRC delegates meet with the prison authorities and then with the inmates, one by one and in private, to assess their treatment and conditions of detention. They see all detainees, but especially monitor those arrested in connection with the conflict.

Restoring family links

The ICRC offers inmates the possibility of contacting their loved ones by telephone or through short Red Cross messages, containing family news only.

“In this vast country, people are sometimes imprisoned far from home,” said Mamadou Cellou Bah, the ICRC delegate in charge of this programme. “Contacting their families can help them to break their isolation and bring them closer to their loved ones, from whom some have been separated for a long time.”

In 2013, volunteers from the Mali Red Cross facilitated the exchange of 130 Red Cross messages and 170 telephone calls were made between inmates and their families.

Dialogue with the detaining authorities

In line with its usual practice, the ICRC submits a confidential report to the detaining authority containing its findings and recommendations.

Regular and constructive exchanges with the National Directorate of Penitentiary Administration and Supervised Education enable the coordination of efforts to improve conditions of detention.

The ICRC also supports the authorities in improving prison infrastructure, such as building latrines, kitchens and water-storage facilities, and in distributing hygiene products to detainees.

For further information, please contact:
Valery Mbaoh Nana, ICRC Bamako, tel: +223 76 99 63 75
Wolde-Gabriel Saugeron, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 31 49 or +41 79 244 64 05


Photos

An ICRC delegate talks to a prison warden. 

Kati prison, Mali.
An ICRC delegate talks to a prison warden.
© ICRC / AMOK

Technical staff get the equipment and disinfectant ready. 

Sikasso prison, Mali.
Technical staff get the equipment and disinfectant ready.
© ICRC / AMOK / v-p-ml-e-00097

The cells are sprayed with disinfectant to eliminate the scabies mite. 

Kati prison, Mali.
The cells are sprayed with disinfectant to eliminate the scabies mite.
© ICRC / AMOK

Inmates’ belongings and clothes are treated with disinfectant. 

Sikasso prison, Mali.
Inmates’ belongings and clothes are treated with disinfectant.
© ICRC / AMOK / v-p-ml-e-00098

An ICRC delegate hands out scabies medication to an inmate. 

Kati prison, Mali.
An ICRC delegate hands out scabies medication to an inmate.
© ICRC / AMOK

An ICRC delegate works alongside the prisoners to pound corn. 

Sikasso prison, Mali.
An ICRC delegate works alongside the prisoners to pound corn.
© ICRC / AMOK

An inmate talks to an ICRC delegate. 

Sikasso prison, Mali.
An inmate talks to an ICRC delegate.
© ICRC / AMOK