Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Prisoners as Patients

We were on call today and miraculously got no patients!!!! It’s the first time ever! I was pretty excited. :)

I’d like to mention a special subset of patients we have at Princess Marina – the prisoners. There is a prison near Gabs (which we actually saw on the way to the Kalahari) that often sends prisoners to us for medical treatment. There is a small clinic within the prison but I think they can only treat patients to a very limited degree – so for very sick prisoners, they send them to PMH, shackled at the ankles, along with at least one prison guard.

You never really find out what these prisoners were jailed for. Boipelo and Maggie (another MO) told us that it’s mostly small things, like theft, but occasionally there are murders (usually crimes of passion, or as they say, “passion killings”) and rapes. Sometimes if a prisoner comes with two prison guards, I think that they must have committed some more offensive crime. But we treat them all the same. They stay shackled with these old-fashioned metal chain shackles, and anywhere they go, a prison guard goes with them. Some of them are relatively healthy and walk around everywhere, while others are incredibly sick and stay in bed all the time – it’s interesting because they stay shackled no matter what, even if they’re too sick to move!

Most of the prisoners are pretty sick by the time by the time they come to PMH. I think the prison clinic does everything it can to help them and then sends them to the hospital only when absolutely necessary. There probably is a huge incentive to fake illness – PMH is like a vacation for these guys. They get mattresses, decent food, and they can even have visitors at PMH!

A high percentage of the prisoners are foreigners, especially Zimbabwean. It’s actually a big problem because foreigners don’t get the same medical treatment that Motswana prisoners do. Because they aren’t citizens, they can’t get CTs without paying (and it’s expensive!), and they can’t get free HIV or TB medications. One patient I had was diagnosed with HIV in prison a few months ago, and is starting to get these complications from AIDS. These are mostly due to opportunistic infections, like Cryptococcus, or TB, and if you get them, it’s a sign that your CD4 count is pretty low and you need to start HIV medications as soon as possible. If this patient could just start taking HIV medications, then it would be ok, his immune system would recover enough for him to fight off the infections on his own. But since he’s a foreigner, he can’t get the free medications from Botswana, and obviously he’s in jail, so he can’t make any money to pay for them. If he was out of jail, he might be able to make enough money, either here or in Zimbabwe, to pay for medications, but here he’s just out of luck. It’s a horrible situation – I don’t know how much jail time he has left to serve, but he might die in there just because he can’t get the HIV medications.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it's the same with most countries, foreigners do not get the same freebies as the citizen. I live in UK and I have to pay for my medical expenses, have no recourse to public funds etc.