Ethiopian Prisons No Longer a 'Prescription' for TB

 {Photo credit: Rebeka Nigatu/MSH.}Birhanu Weyecha, Ambo Prison Clinic Head, has seen hundreds of inmates become infected with TB and transmit the disease to others.Photo credit: Rebeka Nigatu/MSH.

Ethiopia has the seventh highest TB burden in the world. Out of every 100,000 Ethiopians, 572 are infected with TB. In Ethiopian prisons, this prevalence rate can be three to four times higher due to crowded quarters and insufficient TB control services. 

In the three decades he has worked at Ambo Prison as clinic head, Birhanu Weyecha has seen hundreds of inmates become infected with TB and transmit the disease to other prisoners and staff.

Mr. Weyecha said:

At Ambo Prison… TB patients used to be placed in ragged, muddy rooms with other patients. This was like prescribing TB to non-TB-infected patients. The rooms were neither easy to clean nor had proper ventilation. Staff were at risk of acquiring TB when going to these rooms.

One inmate, Getachew Dessu, was incarcerated at Ambo Prison when he was just 18 years old. Within two years, Getachew had become infected with TB due to the crowded, unhygienic living conditions.

Fortunately, in 2013, Management Sciences for Health’s (MSH’s) TB CARE I project began working to improve TB control in Ethiopian prisons. Funded by USAID and supported by the Oromia Regional Health Bureau, TB CARE I renovated both the male and female TB isolation rooms at Ambo Prison.

"TB CARE I built well-ventilated, easy-to-clean isolation rooms for TB patients," said Mr. Weyecha. "These rooms will dramatically decrease the prevalence of TB among inmates as well as transmission of the disease to staff."

After completing the renovations, the project trained six prison nurses on care and treatment for TB and HIV and better TB surveillance and infection control procedures.

"I was moved to the new, clean isolation room, visited daily by the medical staff, and told the importance of taking my medication regularly," said Getachew. "This has brought remarkable improvements to my health."

[Getachew Dessu became infected with TB while incarcerated at Ambo Prison. Since the TB CARE I renovations and trainings, his health has significantly improved.] {Photo credit: Rebeka Nigatu/MSH.}Getachew Dessu became infected with TB while incarcerated at Ambo Prison. Since the TB CARE I renovations and trainings, his health has significantly improved.Photo credit: Rebeka Nigatu/MSH.

After witnessing the success at Ambo, TB CARE I Ethiopia constructed six additional TB isolation rooms at three other prisons in Oromia and trained nurses at these prisons.

In 2014, TB CARE I plans to renovate and provide training in four additional facilities in the Tigray and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' regions.

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