On July 6, a human rights organisation distributed masks to people incarcerated in Kasapa Prison, one of the largest prisons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As in many other countries, the DRC’s incarcerated population is especially at risk of contracting Covid-19. Case numbers across the country are rising; on July 21, there were 8,534 cases of coronavirus and 196 deaths.

Prisons in the DRC are immensely overpopulated: According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, they are filled at 432 percent of their capacity on average. Prisoners living in these conditions have a high chance of being exposed to the virus and yet have little means of protecting themselves.

The prisons are ill-equipped to manage Covid-19. Recognising the vulnerability of this population, Bénis Lubula Mwamba, president of the NGO Universal Action for the Defense of Human Rights (also known as AUDH), visited Kasapa Prison in the town of Lubumbashi with his team on July 6, to educate the inmates about the risks of the virus and to hand out protection kits:

Kasapa Prison is the largest prison in Haut-Katanga Province. It was built during the colonial era to house around 850 prisoners. Today, there are more than 2,500 people incarcerated there, which is about three times its capacity. The overcrowding leaves prisoners extremely exposed to the virus and there is an increased risk of exposure when outside visitors come to bring them food (which is common practice in the DRC).

We got the okay from the police to distribute more than 800 cloth masks to both prisoners and staff. We also handed out 50 handwashing kits and liquid soap. We started by giving the kits to women and children, before distributing them to the adult male prisoners and in the prison health center.

We noticed that no one in the prison was wearing a mask – neither the prisoners nor the staff. Many of the prisoners hadn’t even been educated about Covid-19. They knew nothing about it so we took the time to explain to them the importance of protection kits.

“We stressed the importance of always wearing masks”

It’s hard to social distance because of the large number of prisoners living in each cell, but we stressed the importance of always wearing a mask. The masks we handed out are made of cloth and are reusable.

The fight against Covid-19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn’t take prisoners into account. We lament that fact. They’ve been forsaken. And yet, they also have a right to life, protection and health, just like other citizens.

In late April, 43 detainees tested positive for Covid-19 in Kinshasa’s N’dolo military prison, where close to 2,000 people are incarcerated. Health Minister Eteni Longondo said the virus was likely transmitted to the prison "by a woman who came to drop off food.”

AUDH reported that, for the time being, there have been no cases of coronavirus recorded in Kasapa Prison. As of July 21, there were 260 confirmed cases in Haut-Katanga Province, according to online media outlet actualite.cd.

To support the NGO Universal Action for the Defense of Human Rights (AUDH), you can contact them at +243 824 331 991.


Article by Hermann Boko