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Tackling Physical, Mental Health Of Prisoners Would Improve Public Health, Researchers Say

Providing the more than 10 million people incarcerated around the world “with better health care could prevent outbreaks of HIV and tuberculosis from spilling over into the general population experts say,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports.

“Prisoners typically have higher rates of diseases including AIDS, hepatitis, mental illnesses and tuberculosis. Treating people while they are jailed gives authorities a chance to stop health problems before they hit the public, wrote Seena Fazel of the University of Oxford and Jacques Baillargeon of the University of Texas Medical Branch” in a review article on prisoners’ health that was published Friday in the Lancet, the news service writes (11/18). The review summarizes “a survey of available literature on prisoner health across the world (with most data from high-income countries),” ANI/Sify News reports (11/19).

“From a public health viewpoint, the disproportionate burden of physical and psychiatric disease in prisoners presents both a challenge and an opportunity,” Fazel and Baillargeon wrote in the article. “In many countries throughout the world, prisons are an important venue of contact with millions of individuals who are out of the reach of conventional community-based health systems. For these individuals, prison provides an opportunity for diagnosis, disease management education, counselling, and treatment that they would not receive in the general community.”

However, they note, “[m]ost prisoners return to their communities with their physical and psychiatric morbidity occasionally untreated and sometimes worsened. These prisoners act as reservoirs of infection and chronic disease, increasing the public health burden of poor communities” (11/19). The AP/Washington Post notes the authors’ recommendations that prisoners be screened and treated for illnesses before they are released.

The news service adds: “The World Health Organization advises governments to provide prisoners with the best possible health care free of charge, even when countries are strapped for cash. A U.N. statement on the treatment of prisoners says they should have access to health services without discrimination” (11/19).

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