Nine years ago, Daniel Ng’etich and Patrick Kirui appeared before Nandi Law Courts for not taking TB medication. The judge convicted them to eight months’ imprisonment where they could be supervised to take medication.
They were not the first group of TB patients to find themselves in jail for defaulting TB medication. According to Public Health Act, patients who stop taking their medication are to be put in isolation cells in prison, after which they are ushered into the prison routine alongside other inmates.
Ng’etich and Kirui’s case however changed how matters involving defaulters of TB medication were handled. Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV & Aids (Kelin), a human rights organisation, took up the case terming their imprisonment inhuman.
“The challenge is that the Act did not specify prison as the ideal place for isolation,” said Kelin Executive Director Allan Maleche.
They wanted an alternative place for people who were ailing to be given medication, without being subjected to the punitive environment of prison.
In April 2016, the High Court declared the decision to jail TB patients unlawful. The men were released after serving 46 days in jailThe Ministry of Health outlawed confinement of patients with infectious diseases in prison.
A policy was later released in July 2018 indicating that the only patients who should be isolated in health facilities are those who have not responded to counselling, health education and community support to ensure adherence. Patients who were ignorant about managing the condition at home to avoid re-infection and those with severe health conditions were also to be isolated in hospitals.
“Court orders shall be sought to compel isolation, confinement or detention as referred to in Section 27 of the Public Health Act,” reads a circular by Ministry of Health.
Maleche said the country’s failure to adopt less harsh regimens of treatment had made it difficult for TB patients to adhere.