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News Article

WHO Identifies Health Inequities in Prison Settings

By Sofía Garduño | Tue, 07/19/2022 - 16:55

A World Health Organization (WHO) report on health inequities in prison settings highlights the lack of effective screening programs for several diseases and deficiencies in health research. WHO suggested to Member States to reduce those gaps, stressing the importance of implementing preventable health services for prison populations.


“According to the latest studies, many people living in prisons are strongly willing to be screened for cancer and to learn more about protecting their health in general. Some of them had not even had access to health services before they got to detention. So, prisons can provide a unique opportunity to bring health to the vulnerable,” said Carina Ferreira, Senior Adviser for Noncommunicable Diseases and Programme Manager of Prison Health, WHO.


The report shows that there are lower cancer screening rates in prison populations than in non-prison populations. Delays in screening can lead to late diagnosis that can affect future earnings and limit the abilities of inmates once they leave prison. The implementation of prison health screening programs could not only prevent further complications, but could also reduce costs for health systems, according to WHO. To improve screening rates in prison, health education programs ought to be implemented but, for screening to be truly effective, this procedure has to be followed up by diagnosis and treatment.


“It is very important that screening programs are followed up by consistent referrals for diagnosis and access to treatment. Without the follow-up, screening will surely not be cost-effective or even ethical, and health inequities are likely to remain at the same level,” said Filipa Alves, Public Health Specialist, WHO European Office for the prevention and Control of NCDs.


While most of those living in prison are men, the report also found that there is a predominance of studies on women’s health but studies on men’s health in prison are scarce. A lack of research regarding the assessment of inequities in cardiovascular research was also identified. Moreover, the study found that the differences in screening and treatment among countries limit the ability to identify the effectiveness of interventions and ways to reduce inequities.


The WHO has invited countries to subject individuals to a screen and a health assessment to identify their health needs. Member States are also invited to implement a validated screening tool that captures information on noncommunicable diseases and their associated factors. Additionally, the WHO recommended capturing data to understand continuity of care.


In Mexico, the National Law of Criminal Execution acknowledges prisoner’s right to receive preventive medical assistance and treatment. The law also mandates a medical assessment for every admitted individual and enlists the mandatory characteristics of health services. In Mexico, during 2020, 5,956 people were admitted to federal penitentiary centers and 104,395 to state penitentiary centers. Over 90 percent of the total incarcerated population were men, reports INEGI.


The data used in this article was sourced from:  
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Sofía Garduño Sofía Garduño Journalist & Industry Analyst