Over 200 inmates and prison officers have been vaccinated against covid-19, according to the director general of the Gambia Prison Service (GPS).
This is part of GPS leadership in ensuring that the virus doesn’t spread within the prison. During the height of covid-19 virus, over 76 inmates who contracted the virus were also isolated and moved away from main prison yard to a hotel within the Senegambia area.
Despite the misconception and theories surrounding the covid-19 vaccines, majority of the inmates at the Mile Two Central Prison, Jeshwang Prison and Janjangbureh Prison took the AstraZeneca and the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) jabs including some Prison Officers.
“When the covid-19 broke out in the country, it didn’t only affect the health sector. Many institutions in the country were affected including the prison. We therefore conducted a massive screening at the prison with the objectives of ensuring that inmates in the prison are covid-19 free and also they are free from other illnesses. Unfortunately, around 76 inmates tested positive at the prison. All of them were isolated and the GPS with support from the government was doing everything possible in ensuring that the affected individuals are okay,” Ansumana Manneh, the director general of the GPS said in an interview.
“Prison is a place where if one finishes his or her term, the individual will leave and then other occupants will come. Therefore, part of our measures was to ensure that the entire prison was sanitised before even new occupants come.”
The Gambia Prison Service is also working closely with The Gambia Police Force (GPF), the Drug Law Enforcement Agency, The Gambia (DLEAG) and The Gambia Immigration Department (GID) who mostly remand inmates at the prison.
“We therefore made an agreement with these key institutions in ensuring that whoever they are bringing to the prison for remand, the individual (s) must have a covid-19 certificate indicating that the person (s) has done the covid-19 test, and then he/she is free from the virus. In fact, we don’t even stop at that, but we make sure that we screen the person immediately when he enters the prison gate. These really help us so much and that’s the same system that’s continuing,” he said.
He said that the myths and perception around the covid-19 jabs were a challenge at the beginning as some inmates and some prison officers were initially reluctant to take it. “However, as the head of the institution, I have to lead by example. I took the jab with the desire of not only encouraging the prison officers to follow my footsteps, but including the inmates themselves. I can happily tell you that most if not all the inmates and the prison officers have taken the covid-19 jabs,” he stated.
The GPS, he added, is strictly following the Ministry of Health’s covid-19 guidelines. “We also make sure that those that come to visit inmates at the prison wear facemasks. No one is allowed to enter the prison without wearing a facemask. We even ensure that those that are coming to visit inmates or their relatives at the prison have their temperature taken.”
Supt. Yusupha Jabang, a qualified health personnel who doubles as the Officer-in-Charge of the prison medical unit, said the massive covid-19 vaccination has greatly helped in ensuring that large numbers of inmates are not affected by the virus.
“We start with the screening even before we roll out the massive vaccination at the prison. We make sure that we screen all the prisoners that are coming inside the prison taking into account that our mandate is to keep the prisoners safe and provide them with the necessary health service they need,” he said, claiming that the prison’s director general has totally revamped the prison health system.
“Any prisoner who is coming to the prison, the individual must come with a negative covid-19 certificate. Again, we also monitor the prisoners’ condition to see whether they have fever or others. We make sure that we check their health condition every time, especially during the time when cases are increasing. If we suspect any inmates, we then isolate the individual.”
Screening of visitors, he said, starts at the Prison’s main gate. “We also make sure that during their visit, there’s maximum social distancing between the inmates and the visitor,” he posited, adding that most of the inmates in the prison have taken the AstraZeneca vaccine and that of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine.”
“At the first time, it was difficult for us to vaccinate the inmates. But with the massive sensitisation, we were able to convince some inmates who took the jabs. We decided to move with that strategy and we even talked to some inmates during Friday’s prayers. Therefore, when the J&J vaccine came, it was not difficult, hence most of the inmates and prison officers themselves volunteer and took the vaccines.”
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Mai-Media and The Point Newspaper.