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Tuberculosis in prisons: A major health problem

22-03-2013 News Release 13/49

Geneva (ICRC) – Tuberculosis, a contagious and potentially fatal disease, is a major health problem in prisons. On the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day on 24 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling on prison managers, public health authorities and the international community at large to pay greater attention to the dangers posed by the ongoing development of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in prisons and its spread outside prison walls.

''MDR-TB is spreading at alarming rates around the world," said ICRC medical doctor Raed Abu Rabi. "This deadly disease is particularly virulent in places of detention.''

TB can be more than 100 times more prevalent inside than outside prison walls. This is often due to overcrowding, insufficient ventilation, ignorance of preventive measures and failure to supervise and ensure adherence to treatment. Inadequate medical care not only fails to cure TB patients, but contributes to the emergence of resistant strains that infect patients, other prisoners, and the community at large.

"More and more patients are developing highly resistant strains of TB in prisons. When this happens, TB, a previously curable disease, can become extremely difficult to treat; some patients cannot be cured with existing drug regimens. The association of MDR-TB with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C further complicates the problem", explained Dr Abu Rabi.

The ICRC has been fighting TB in prisons in the southern Caucasus, Central Asia and Uganda for many years. The ICRC is also currently cooperating with the authorities in Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines in an effort to fight the disease. Dealing with TB in prisons remains a concern and must be an integral part of any public health policy aimed at controlling and ultimately eradicating the disease.

For further information, please contact:
David-Pierre Marquet, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 02 or +41 79 536 92 48