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Activists appeal for release of TB prisoners

[Liberia] Prisonners in Liberia. [Date picture taken: 11/01/2005]
The prisons service found an HIV-infection level of almost 10 percent among inmates. (Eric Kanalstein/UNMIL)

Kenyan human rights activists have filed an appeal for the release of two men imprisoned for defaulting on their tuberculosis (TB) treatment, and are warning that the arrests could discourage other patients from seeking treatment.

The appeal has been filed at Kapsabet court in Rift Valley Province.

Arrested in August, the two men have been held in police remand in Kapsabet for "posing a risk to the health of the wider community". Under the Public Health Act, they can be held until the district medical officer who ordered their arrest decides they are no longer a public health threat.

"I have actually gone there - the two have not been isolated, yet this was the reason for the arrest," said Nelson Otwoma, national coordinator of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

He warned that the arrests could act as a deterrent to patients needing treatment. "When I visited the family of one the [imprisoned] patients, his wife is afraid to take a sick child who is coughing for treatment for fear of arrest," Otwoma said. "This is a negative consequence of the government action... Now everybody with TB might see themselves as criminals."

"Counselling of those on treatment will have better outcomes," he added.

Ideally, the two men, both suffering from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), would undergo treatment in the isolation wing of a health facility, but most Kenyan health facilities are not equipped with isolation wards.

''Now everybody with TB might see themselves as criminals''

MDR-TB often develops as a result of patients on first-line TB drugs not completing their six-month course of treatment. Each MDR-TB case costs the Kenyan government an estimated US$21,000, compared with $80 for patients with non-resistant TB; fewer than half of the estimated 500 Kenyan MDR-TB patients are currently on treatment.

Joseph Sitienei, head of the National Leprosy and TB Control Programme, defended the men's arrest: "This action was taken in good faith; while they have their rights, the other members of the public also have [the] right to be protected from an infectious disease… It is a delicate balancing act of the two sets of rights."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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