MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday announced that it would be running COVID-19 tests on detainees and prisoners to prevent further spread of the disease in the country's jail facilities.
“Sa ating pakikipag-ugnayan sa Bureau of Corrections at BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology), makakapag-conduct po tayo ng targeted testing sa mga pasilidad kung saan ito kina-kailangan,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a televised briefing.
(In coordination with the Bureau of Corrections and BJMP, we’ll be able to conduct targeted testing in facilities where it is needed.)
The decision came after an increase in the number of coronavirus-infected inmates in various jails in the country, where facilities are usually overcrowded.
Vergeire said the DOH, the Department of Justice, the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did an initial assessment and investigation on how COVID-19 cases were being managed in some of these facilities.
“Sinisigurado natin na maisasaayos ang prevention measures sa ating iba pang mga bilangguan upang hindi na makapasok ang sakit na COVID sa ating mga pasilidad na mananatiling COVID-free,” she said.
(We’ll ensure that prevention measures will be in place in our prisons so that COVID-19 won’t be able to spread in COVID-free facilities.)
Vergeire said the ICRC is already setting up isolation facilities at the New Bilibid Prison where an inmate had already died due to COVID-19.
Auxiliary tents are also being placed in the facility for probable and suspect COVID-19 cases.
Vergeire said the Department of Social Welfare and Development, on the other hand, is monitoring other facilities with closed settings such as orphanages and homes for the aged where people are more vulnerable to getting sick.
International group Human Rights Watch earlier claimed that there is an underreporting of COVID-19 cases in jails in the Philippines.
“Five inmates interviewed separately told Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently that since March 25, 2020, at least 7 inmates have died in the Quezon City Jail and one in the Cavite Provincial Jail,” the group said in a statement on Wednesday.
One inmate at the Quezon City Jail also said that they have been seeing at least one death per week since the COVID-19 outbreak.
HRW said it is unable to determine if the deaths were related to COVID-19 because of the lack of testing within the facilities.
“Unreported deaths of inmates show the urgent need for the Duterte government to be transparent about the spread of COVID-19 inside the country’s overcrowded prisons,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“The government should get serious about the terrible situation in its prisons and jails and accurately report on prison deaths and illness.”