Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Russian Penal System Incubator of Antibiotic Resistant Tuberculosis

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 13 – Russian penal institutions have become a major incubator of antibiotic resistance tuberculosis, from which this most difficult to treat disease then spreads to the population at large. The reason there are so many cases of tuberculosis among those incarcerated is that Russian jailors routinely use cold as their punishment of choice.

            Putting prisoners in “the cooler,” Azret Shavayev of “Kavkazskaya politika” says, works for the jailors because it leaves no marks of torture which might land them in trouble and because the prevailing view of Russians and of jailors that the purpose of imprisonment is to punish rather than to rehabilitate (kavpolit.com/articles/tuberkulez_shagaet_po_strane-20434/).

            And this situation is exacerbated, of course, by cutbacks in medical services for the Russian population under the terms of Vladimir Putin’s “optimization” scheme and by the view among some that those who contracted an illness in prison are simply being punished and need not be helped.

            Moscow routinely takes public pride in having committed itself to the UN program of eradicating tuberculosis of all kinds by 2034, but in fact, Shavayev says, the Russian authorities have done little to reach that goal and almost nothing at all in the penal system where tuberculosis remains rife. 

            Russian officials “shamelessly conceal the fact from foreign doctors and scholars that the goals and tasks of the Russian Penal System” are completely at odds with those of the international health system because “the goal of health care is to cure while the goal of many Russian penal institutions is to crush.”

            According to official Russian government statistics, the penal system has 10 percent of the total number of TB cases in Russia, but that is far too low. The real number is 1.5 to 2 times greater, Shavayev says.  Moreover, prisoners often spread the disease to relatives and close friends.

            And so by the most crude accounting, he continues, the Russian prison system is ultimately responsible for half of the tuberculosis cases in the country.

            That “contribution” could be reduced if the authorities built new prisons, provided more medical care for prisoners, and changed both laws and administrative rules governing the treatment of those incarcerated.  But until the mentality of Russian jailors is changed, the situation almost certainly will remain dire.

            The jailors aren’t the only ones responsible for the spread of tuberculosis. Officials who supervise them and a public which is indifferent to or even supportive of their harshness also are to blame.  And because putting prisoners in “coolers” without sufficient food or clothing as punishment makes them sick without leaving other marks, jailors will see that as ideal.

            In fact, “coolers” are a form of torture, Shavayev says, and they do leave a mark: prisoners sick with tuberculosis and soon to spread that disease to others. 

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