Daniel Nemukuyu

Investigations Editor

THE Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) is working flat-out to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country’s correctional facilities, with records showing a recovery rate of 90 percent since March last year.

ZPCS’s health services department, working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, came up with a with a cocktail of measures, including regular testing of inmates and correctional officers, to manage the situation.

While a spike in confirmed cases has been recorded since the festive season, the authorities are managing the crisis to ensure those who test positive are well taken care of and treated to save lives.

Since last year, official statistics show that 510 people — 203 inmates, 223 officers and 84 dependants of prison officers (staying in camps) — tested positive.

Of the 510 people, 456 recovered while four died.

This comes at a time when the country’s prisons have around 19 000 inmates.

By Wednesday, the country’s prisons were managing 50 active cases of Covid-19.

In an interview, ZPCS director of health services Dr Evidence Gaka said a spike in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 was recorded around Christmas time, but the recovery rate was impressive.

“All along the numbers of new confirmed cases were stable until December 25 when the figures started rising.

“As at December 24 2020, we had a total 451 confirmed cases recorded since early last year, of which 426 had recovered. We had four deaths.

“As we speak, the number of confirmed cases figure has gone up to 510. However, we did not record any new deaths,” said Dr Gaka.

Dr Gaka said Harare, Bulawayo, Mashonaland East and Masvingo are the most affected provinces.

Measures put in place by ZPCS to curb the spread of the virus include random tests and regular testing of inmates and staff whenever they present Covid-19 symptoms.

“Those who need to be tested, are tested at any given time. If anyone presents flu-like symptoms, they quickly get tested.

“We also do random tests, especially at high risk stations like border prisons where new inmates may come from other countries,” he said.

He added: “Where an inmate or officer tests positive, we do contact tracing to ensure we manage the spread of the virus.

“for example, if one inmate tests positive in a cell of 10, the other nine are immediately tested. We also test the officers taking care of them.”

Those who test positive, according to ZPCS, get medication and are isolated until they recover.

Whenever the prison authorities suspect a new inmate to be Covid-19 positive, they also quarantine them.

New inmates are tested for Covid-19 and those who test positive are quarantined, said Dr Gaka.

The major challenge in the Covid-19 fight at prisons, according to Dr Gaka, was the issue of new inmates who may bring the virus into the facilities.

Accommodation challenges at prison camps, which forces some officers to live outside cantonment areas, are also presenting a serious threat to the fight.

Inmates and staff are provided with face masks and sanitizers. They are also obliged to maintain social distancing all the time.

Periodically, ZPCS, with the support of development partners disinfects prison cells and offices to curb the spread of the virus.

However, Dr Gaka appealed to ZPCS’ partners and other donors to continue supporting the programmes aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.

“Consumables like sanitisers and face masks are always needed. We get them but we run out of the supplies in a few days.

“We appeal to our partners like the National Aids Council, Ministry of Health and Child Care, United Nations agencies, some private companies and individuals to continue donating and supporting us,” he said.