Cameroon’s crowded prisons turn happy hunting ground for coronavirus
DAKAR/YAOUNDE (SENEGAL/CAMEROON) – On April 24 morning, Fritz Takang experienced breathlessness that he could hardly walk across the crowded cell he shared with 60 others at the main prison in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.
He said that he was evacuated at night along with five others to an apartment complex that was being used to quarantine suspected COVID-19 cases.
The following morning, the 48-year-old heard a fellow inmate in distress in a neighbouring room. As there were no doctors present, he went to his bedside and placed a hand on his feverish forehead. Moments later, the inmate died.
“I prayed for him before the last breath,” said Takang, who is a pastor. “I asked God to soften his pain.”
Across the world, penal facilities have been fertile ground for COVID-19.
Plagued by overcrowding, malnutrition and limited access to healthcare, Africa’s prison population is vulnerable to the virus, say health experts. Irregular testing and case reporting have frustrated efforts to trace and contain the spread of the virus in jails and in the community.
Virus infection outbreaks were reported in jails across Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Kenya.
Although Cameroon has not publicly acknowledged cases in its prisons, President Paul Biya inked a decree on April 15 to de-congest jails in a bid to contain the virus.
According to preliminary figures from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as many as 1,800 inmates were freed by May 8.
Hundreds of cases were recorded among prisoners released from five jails in the country’s central region in April, according to government data.
While some of them were allowed to return home before the results came, others were released with little or no screening.
Takang is lodged in Yaounde Central Prison, which is the worst hit, according to the data.
Interview with a dozen inmates, four prison officials and two lawyers revealed that the virus quickly spread through the filthy cells with mouldy walls.
Since April more than 31 inmates have died of the infection.
Two sources said the government has taken efforts to stall the spread of the virus in jails despite limited resources and manpower.
“I am sure a thousand people are infected,” Takang said from an isolation facility at the Cameroonian Presbyterian Church Hospital in Yaounde, where he was taken on April 25. “You cannot leave your room without passing a hundred people. It is a horror.”
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field