COVID crisis rocks Windhoek Central Prison

Andrew Kathindi

A COVID-19 crisis has hit the Windhoek Central Prison, amidst allegations of shortage of medicine, isolation facilities and proper care of infected inmates.

This dire situation according to an insider is alleged to have contributed to the death of one inmate, a death confirmed by the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS).

Information made available to the Windhoek Observer alleges that many of the inmates that have contracted COVID-19 are not are left without being tested or provided with medical attention.

“Some inmates are lucky get medication from their families from outside, but others, just have to wait. They are not getting medication from officials. Those with family outside get Vitamin C, Panado, whatever they can get for them. It’s dropped at the gate since visits aren’t allowed.”

According to the insider, the problems started when inmates were removed from a particular unit that had COVID-19 positive cases and spread to other units.

“The inmates had a big disagreement with officials, because they feared being infected, which officials responded by saying the units needed to be fumigated,” said the insider.

“There are two others that are critically ill and unattended, just lying there. They are sleeping next to others and have not been tested or quarantined. The one who died on Monday was in the same unit as those two. Some inmates got tested this week. But it was only after being sick for a long time. There hasn’t been any test for the past nearly two weeks. In that time, they had the symptoms: fever, headache, and shortness of breath.”

NCS Commissioner General Raphael Hamunyela confirmed that they had a suspected COVID-19 related death, but due to a backlog from the Health Ministry’s testing capacity, they have not received official results yet.

“The person had the signs and died on Monday. We are waiting on the Ministry of Health to verify. That person came from quarantine. He was supposed to be tested on Tuesday. He along with others were quarantined because someone was removed from that area who is positive and the whole unit was arranged to be tested on Tuesday,” he said.

Hamunyela added, “The whole unit was tested on Tuesday, but he was already removed with signs on Monday during the day. And he couldn’t manage. He died at Katutura Hospital. Before that, he was already in quarantine with the others who were waiting to be tested.”

He however denied allegations that inmates were not receiving medication.

“The issue of no treatment cannot be true. We had more nurses. But some left when the Ministry of Health started advertising positions. We were left with three nurses, a doctor and two student doctors. And during COVID-19, I employed three additional nurses who are working and we’re still searching for other nurses to come and assist.”

“We are having a facility which was not built in conformity with COVID-19 protocols, however our facility was built in conformity with the United Nations minimum standard rules of the treatment of prisoners, the Nelson Mandela rules,” he said.

He added, “But when COVID-19 came, we still have an option of separating offenders, to keep them away from those who are positive and those awaiting their results.”

The NCS Commissioner General said that most of their COVID-19 positive inmates recovered and the Windhoek Central Prison is only left with 20 active cases among inmates.

These allegations came after Hamunyela previously stated that offenders that would, under normal circumstances, be separated based security levels and the risk they pose were now being mixed on the basis of their COVID-19 status.

The development also comes as Hamunyela previously revealed to Windhoek Observer that the cases that led to the sky-rocketing infection numbers at the Windhoek Prison came from a cell that had 123 offenders crowded in.

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