Project Stories:

A review by humedica intervention team member Roswitha Märkle

Help for prisoners in Togo

by Roswitha Märkle,  2017/12/27

Overcrowded, insufficiently supplied and often without charges or jurisdiction: in many countries living conditions in prisons are still devastating. In order to provide these people with medical care and to show them that they are not forgotten, humedica sends out medical teams to underserved project countries several times a year.

Most recently this engagement brought a humedica team to Togo, where ten voluntaries were able to provide important health care in various prisons. Nurse and team member Roswitha Märkle noted in her personal review, why this intervention left her sad and why, nevertheless, she does not give up hope:

„Even so our prison intervention in Togo has taken place already several weeks ago, many experiences are very present and I still worry about the devastating conditions, the prisoners have to live under. As most experts on Africa will know, it is quite helpful from time to time, to fall back on high flexibility and a certain amount of improvisation skills in some parts of the continent. Also for our humedica team of five practitioners, a dentist, three female and one mal nurse, the days unfolded in ways completely different from what was planned.

Das humedica-Team gemeinsam mit lokalen Helfern während ihres Gefängniseinsatzes in Togo

The humedica team together with local helpers during their intervention in Togolese prisons. Photo: humedica

The outbound flight already forced us to stay unscheduled at Lisbon for about 24 hours. When we finally arrived, our intervention was meant to start in the far North of the country. But because demonstrations, many roadblocks and violent confrontations with several fatalities took place at this time, we decided for safety reasons to visit a prison near the capital Lomé instead. Luckily, we were in the good care of pastor Martin and Eric, an employee of our partner organization Prison Fellowship, who looked very dedicatedly after our safety and well-being during the whole intervention.

Although we lost two intervention days due to the missed connection flight and the explosive political situation, we could visit and provide medical care in nine prisons all over the country. Apart from a newly constructed, big and impressive exemplary prison in the city Kpalimé, we came upon distressing situations. The living conditions were degrading and inhumane to such an extent, they exceeded the imagination of any European. In one of the prisons we visited, for all 417 prisoners there was only one shower and one toilet and they did not receive more than one meal a day. Sometimes up to 55 people had to spend the night together in jail cells of twenty square meters! You do not have to wonder why under these conditions besides other ailments especially skin diseases like mycosis and the scabies infect all inmates.

Thanks to the supply provided by humedica we had the opportunity to take all necessary countermeasures in the worst affected prisons in order to stop the spreading. We distributed oral scabies medicine as well as new clothes to all inmates. The emptied cells were sprayed with corresponding agents and the still existing clothes were hermetically wrapped up.

Die humedica-Helfer ermöglichten eine medizinische Versorgung für die Häftlinge

Whether dental treatments or scabies remedies: the humedica team provided the prisoners with a wide range of medical care. Photo: humedica

The prisoners we treated were friendly and grateful without any exception. I was glad that I was able to talk to them in French as far as this was possible in the middle of the rush during our drug distribution. Sometimes a „Get well soon“ or a „Thank you“ were enough to receive a smile. When I asked a friendly 72 year old man, how long he had already been inside the prison and when he was meant to leave, he told me that he had already spent five years inside and that he was due to be relieved next January. My pleased reaction to the news of his upcoming release was soundly shared by all bystanding fellow inmates.

But I also heard of a 74 year old, who lived in the prison for 15 years already and who had to spend further five years inside. I then asked myself, how you were able to survive something like this. Obviously, many prisoners found solace in their faith, some of them also asked for bibles. Eric was quick to mark this on his To-do list and promised his best to fulfill this wish.

Besides so many depressing and sometimes devastating experiences every day, there were also a lot of happy moments. It was great to see how cheerful the mood suddenly became when Eric ended his welcome speech with a song underlined with sweeping gestures. With obvious delight and happy faces all those present sang and gesticulated including us as well as everybody else young and old.

However, when I am reading reports of earlier relief interventions in Togolese prisons, I am saddened. All the endeavors of organizations like Prison Fellowship or humedica were hardly able to improve the partly really disastrous living conditions in sometimes 400 per cent overcrowded prisons. But as humedica is already planning further relief interventions in Togolese prisons, I do not want to lose confidence that the living conditions of the inmates in these prisons will become more tolerable one day.”

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