LAHORE     -    Hundreds of prisoners languishing in jails across Punjab have been suffering from chronic diseases including TB, hepatitis, asthma and AIDS. Many of them badly need proper medical care but they have been left to die in prisons.

A provincial official on Saturday told The Nation that roughly more than 3,000 inmates, mostly under trial prisoners, have been suffering from life-threatening diseases in different district jails. He also admitted that dozens of prisoners die in jails every year in Punjab because they are never provided proper medical treatment by experts due to one or other reason.

As a matter of fact, ordinary prisoners are shifted to main hospitals from jail only when their condition gets worse. A few health facilities are available in some jails where medical officers are unable to treat all chronic patients.

In May, two under trial prisoners died in Lahore jails. Muhammad Ahmad and Yasir Ali were rushed to hospitals after their condition deteriorated, police said. Ahmad was arrested by North Cantonment police in connection with an armed robbery case and Yasir Ali had been jailed in a drug peddling case, registered against him with the Kot Lakhpat Police Station.

Ahmad, a chronic TB patient, was admitted to the Gulab Devi Hospital only after his condition got deteriorated in Lahore’s Camp Jail. Yasir was given medical treatment in jail hospital but he expired.

Majority of the ordinary prisoners belong to poor families and they cannot afford costly treatment in public or private hospitals. Because of rampant corruption in Punjab’s prisons, the jail officials treat inmates according to their status.

“If you are poor, you will not be served proper food in the prison. But if you can offer bribe, you can enjoy all facilities there,” said Muhammad Zaman who spent several years in Faisalabad district jail.

Many prisoners in Punjab’s overcrowded jails are suffering from different diseases due to lack of proper food, health facilities, and poor sanitary conditions.

Rights activists say all the prisons in Punjab are overcrowded and complaints of torture on inmates are quite common. The prisoners are routinely abused and humiliated in jails. They also said that a large number of prisoners had been suffering from various diseases but they are denied proper medical treatment.

More than 48,000 prisoners including 800 women have been languishing in different Punjab jails. Only, the murder suspects make 42 percent of the total jail population followed by drug peddlers and robbery suspects.

According to home department officials, no less than 1,300 prisoners are addicted to drugs and many of them have been suffering from chronic diseases including AIDS and hepatitis. The under trial and convicted prisoners are kept in 40 jails located in all Punjab districts. But most of the jails lack proper healthcare.

An under trial prisoner arrested by NAB on corruption charges died of cardiac arrest in Lahore’s Camp jail early last month. An official claimed Qaiser Abbas was a patient of heart disease and diabetes and he used to get checked-up regularly from Punjab Institute of Cardiology and Services Hospitals. However, relatives of the deceased rejected the claims stating that he was never given proper healthcare facilities.

According to jail superintendent, Abbas had complained of chest pain due to which his E.C.G was done at the jail hospital. He was immediately shifted to PIC after his condition deteriorated and he expired there later. A NAB official claimed that the accused was medically-fit and healthy when he was handed over to jail staff and the prison authorities had also issued medical fitness acceptability note.

Jail officials say several new facilities have also been introduced in the prisons including medical dispensary, new sewage lines, and supply of filtered water for jail employees and the prisoners. An official at the Lahore’s camp jail said several large-size coolers and ceiling fans were installed in the jail to provide better environment to the inmates.

Another official said the prisons department had issued directions to all the jail authorities for ensuring treatment of inmates in jail hospitals. Medical Specialists and Consultants from the local DHQ Hospitals are routinely visiting jails to examine and treat the sick prisoners. They visit jails with cooperation of the concerned EDO Health on fixed working days, the official explained.

The sudden deaths of some prominent under trial prisoners have raised many eyebrows in the recent past. But, the poor inmates suffering from chronic diseases are left in the jails to die.