Prison Health is Public Health: UNODC supports COVID-19 preparedness and responses in prisons in Egypt

20 April 2020 - Cairo, Egypt

Close to 11 million prisoners worldwide — as well as the officers who are charged with ensuring their safe, secure and humane custody — must not be forgotten during the Corona (COVID-19) virus pandemic. Countries should recognize the particular risks which COVID-19 pose to closed settings.

Understanding that prison health is public health, UNODC’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA) and Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council Region (OGCCR) in coordination with the Egyptian Ministry of Interior (MoI) organized a three-day online training on the International standards for the prevention of infection in the prison environments, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, viral Tuberculosis and COVID-19. 

With the substance delivered by Mr. Ehab Salah, UNODC Advisor on Prisons and HIV in Vienna, the training aimed at complementing national efforts undertaken to address COVID-19 within closed settings as well as enhancing the capacities of several police officers, doctors, and officials working at the correctional and penitentiary institutions within the Egyptian Ministry of Interior (MoI) regarding the international standards to COVID-19 prevention. It also allowed for exchange on the best practices undertaken at the national level.

“This online training comes at a time when countries around the world are experiencing challenges posed by the spread of the pandemic. It was vital that the office cooperates with officials from all concerned national bodies to provide the necessary technical support to combat the spread of the virus,” Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa, mentioned her opening statement delivered on her behalf by Mr. Ihab El-Minabbawy, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Expert.

Discussions between UNODC experts and participants addressed how prisons and other detention settings are an integral part of national health and emergency measures undertaken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in line with dedicated guidance developed by the national health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO). With the measures encompassing specific risk assessments and contingency plans; enhanced hygiene and infection control measures; the uninterrupted availability of relevant supplies, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); close linkages with local and national public health authorities; as well as support the capacity building for prison staff and health-care professionals. Furthermore, responses to COVID-19 are properly implemented and integrated into the overall prison health strategies to ensure that continued attention is paid to broader healthcare needs within the prison population, including other prevalent diseases.

During key interventions Mr. Hatem Aly, UNODC Regional Representative for the Gulf Cooperation Council noted that, "This rapid remote response comes within UNODC’s efforts to enhance national responses and preventive measures in addressing challenges of communicable diseases at large, and COVID-19 particularly, in prison settings to protect the life’s of both inmates and officers of penitentiary services. Nevertheless, In recognition to Egypt’s leading role and wide experience, our experts will be taking stock and full advantage of the national practice shared during the interactive sessions to enrich our international measures making them more practical and practitioners oriented, and relatively, swiftly modelled to the rest of the region."

Many countries in the region have benefited from the smart remote training programs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include programs organized previously in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

For more information:

Technical guidance on HIV and hepatitis B, C prevention, treatment, care and support for people who use drugs and for people in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic

Protecting children deprived of liberty during the COVID-19 outbreak 

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) - UNODC ROMENA Updates