The Irrawaddy

Health Ministry Issues New Health Care Guidelines for Prison System

Released women prisoners make their way out of Insein Prison in Yangon October 12, 2011. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said about 100 political prisoners had been released as part of an amnesty on Wednesday and she was thankful, although she hoped more would be freed. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E7AC19SI01

YANGON — The Health and Sports Ministry launched new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for prison health care in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, focusing on giving inmates better access to medical facilities and services in prisons nationwide.

The procedures are outlined in 22 chapters covering the ethics of healthcare professionals and prison workers; managing emergency and outbreak conditions; managing chronic illness, communicable diseases and mental health problems; caring for women and children; and improved handling of the health care system in prisons, according to the ministry.

Myanmar’s inmates are highly vulnerable and marginalized, with limited access to disease prevention and treatment. The country has 44 prisons and at least 50 labor camps, most of which are overcrowded. Nearly half of all inmates are serving sentences for drug-related offenses.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) said last month that overcrowding is the most important factor negatively impacting inmates’ health.

Overcrowded living conditions make prisons and labor camps ideal transmission sites for communicable diseases, and infections such as tuberculosis, dysentery, hepatitis and cholera. They also heighten the risk of HIV, Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDRTB) and other infectious diseases.

Inmates do not receive adequate medical care, with many living in poor health and with chronic untreated conditions and mental health problems. Some prisons have no doctors, especially in remote areas, according to the MNHRC.

Union Minister of Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe said that under the new SOPs, all inmates will receive equal quality of health care. They also have the right to make their own health decisions and to keep their health records confidential in prison.

Dr. Myint Htwe said that all prison administrators will be required to follow the SOPs, while related ministries and departments will have to work out the details of the procedures.

“It is not just a handbook. All departments will discuss it to facilitate practical implementation,” Dr. Myint Htwe said.

According to the ministry, the new SOPs will be distributed to prisons this month. Since last year, the Health and Sports Ministry has consulted prison departments for input into the new SOPs, with collaboration from the Home Affairs Ministry, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, World Health Organization and Three Millennium Development Goal Fund.