The High Court in Zomba has given relief to inmates diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB), ordering hospitals to stop returning them to prisons.
The ruling follows an appeal by six inmates from Maula and Mzimba prisons with support from the Centre for Human Rights, Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa).
Through lawyer Chikondi Chijozi, the inmates argued that returning them would not only infringe on their constitutional rights, but also the rights of fellow inmates who would be exposed to the multi drug-resistant TB.
While pending a constitutional case to secure the setting aside of the inmates’ sentences, the High Court has granted the six an interim order to stop their return to prison and remain in hospital.
Reads the order in part: “It is further ordered that in terms of Section 73  of the Prisons Act, the responsible officer-in-charge of Bwaila Hospital and Mzimba District Hospital with security personnel assistance from Malawi Prison Service, should ensure that special security measures are taken to prevent the escape of the prisoners herein.
“Each of the prisoners be in the custody of at least two fit and proper security officers and at least one of whom shall always be with such prisoners by day and night, 24 hours daily until a determination of the inter-partes summons herein or until his sentence expires whichever may first occur.”
The order also states that the six inmates, while they remain in hospital, should not be chained or shackled as has been the case in most instances until a further determination of the courts is made.
Between August and September this year, the six inmates were diagnosed with the contagious form of TB and have been receiving in-patient treatment, but are due to be released from the hospital, meaning their release would have meant a return to the prisons.
Commenting on the order, Chreaa executive director Victor Chagunyuka Mhango said they are impressed that the court and government departments appear to share a sense of urgency and concern on the matter.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala said it was normal procedure unless there is something peculiar about the inmates.
But in a separate interview, human rights activist Maziko Matemba, said government must see to it that it provides care for everyone be it prisoners or not.
But on his part, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango, said the ministry has strengthened TB screening of inmates and staff in prisons and that those identified are promptly initiated on TB treatment where follow-ups are made until complete treatment.
Multi-drug resistant TB is spread through coughing and is highly contagious. Severe overcrowding and poor ventilation in prisons combined with lack of adequate food and isolation facilities in prisons put prisoners at high risk of being infected.