Preventing COVID-19 Outbreak in Prisons: a Challenging but Essential Task for Authorities
Today, WHO/Europe has published interim guidance on how to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in prisons and other places of detention, entitled “Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention”.
The guidance provides useful information to staff and health care providers working in prisons, and to prison authorities. It explains how to prevent and address a potential disease outbreak and stresses important human rights elements that must be respected in the response to COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention. Access to information and adequate health care provision, including for mental disorders, are essential aspects in preserving human rights in such places.
Controlling the spread of infection in these settings is essential for preventing large outbreaks of COVID-19. The guidance aims to protect the health and well-being of all those who live, work in and visit these settings and the general population at large. People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population. Moreover, correctional facilities may amplify and enhance COVID-19 transmission beyond their walls. According to the newly published WHO guidance, the global effort to tackle the spread of disease may fail without proper attention to infection control measures within prisons.
The risk of introducing COVID-19 into prisons or other places of detention varies from country to country. Nevertheless, it is crucial to minimize the occurrence of the disease in these settings. Dealing with infection outbreaks in detention settings, with people staying near each other, has never been easy. With COVID-19, the task is challenging because, in many cases, the disease can manifest itself as a mild respiratory illness and begin gradually.
This guidance presents the latest evidence about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the prevention and management measures that should be implemented in suspect, probable and confirmed cases of infection, considering a prison’s specificities.
To effectively tackle a COVID-19 disease outbreak in prisons, state authorities need to establish an up-to-date coordination system that brings together health and justice sectors, keeps prison staff well-informed, and guarantees that all human rights in the facilities are respected. A public health emergency of international concern requires a global response that includes measures taken inside prisons and other closed settings.
The COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in Wuhan, China and is now rapidly evolving in several countries in the European Region and other regions of the world. On 30 January 2020, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the current outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.