The plight of sick prisoners in desperate need of medical care to end their agony

For the past 19 years, Karanja has been suffering from spinal tuberculosis, which took away his ability to walk.

Spinal tuberculosis, also known as Pott disease, is a form of TB that develops in the spine. It can lead to osteomyelitis, humpbacked deformity and spinal mechanical instability.

Karanja, who has been in prison for 26 years, had a bladder infection after a few years and has since been using a urine bag.

The inmate said he has been depending on other inmates for help.

"I need to be taken everywhere because of my condition. I cannot do some things for myself, and it is hectic, painful and unbearable," he said.

Prison life, for Karanja, is tough, but he said it is tougher to survive with illness and little medical care.

He last went for a medical check-up in 2004. He said they are happy that they sometimes get medical care, but it is not enough.

"Doctors listen to us and try to help, but treating my condition is expensive," said Karanja.
He said the physical pain is nothing compared to the mental anguish he has suffered since his siblings abandoned him after his parents died.

"I do not know where my four siblings are. I am not sure whether they are alive or dead because they stopped visiting me," he said.

He said the fact that doctors were willing to listen and assist him, gave him the hope of continuing to live.

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"I sometimes feel happy that I was condemned to life imprisonment because the only family I have are my fellow inmates who are sacrificing a lot to keep me alive," he said.

Karanja was referred to Yusuf Mahat, a doctor at Nakuru Provincial General Hospital, who organised the free medical camp at the prisons.

According to Dr Mahat, Karanja needs to undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI), to assess his condition.

Mahat said since Karanja last underwent an MRI in 2004, his condition may have worsened.

The problem should have been rectified as soon as it started.

"His infected bones may have been replaced, but the surgery is expensive. We have, however, taken his details, and we will use them to help where we can," said Mahat.

He noted that Karanja had regained some strength over the years, in some body parts that were paralysed, adding that this was a good sign.

"I am happy about the medical care I have received, and I feel loved and that my life matters even to strangers. This is much better than what I have got in prison for 26 years," said Karanja.

Nancy Chelangat, jailed in 2019, has had back pain since early 2020. She said since her imprisonment, she has never received any free medical care.

"Getting medicine for my condition is hard, and the services in prison are not sufficient for us. The free medical camps are our only hope," she told The Standard.

She said she started feeling ill after some months in prison, and her attempt to seek medical care were sometimes ignored.

"Sickness is seen as an excuse in prison. The warders sometimes feel we are lying to them. Without constant care, medical check-ups and medicine some illness become fatal," she said.

Luckily, she got medicine at the camp. She was so thankful because she would not have been able to cater for the treatment on her own.

Chelangat wants the government to care for prisoners and at least send physicians to conduct frequent check-ups.

She revealed that they are forced to cater for treatment expenses when referred to facilities outside prison.

The Standard established that most inmates referred to hospital pay for tests, and those who cannot afford to return to prison without treatment. Most inmates affected are those seeking outpatient services and have to undergo various laboratory tests.
The inmates noted that they are at the mercy of their next of kin and have to call them to cater for the expenses. Some, however, do not get the chance to notify them they are unwell.

Bernard Kibet was happy to get medicine for his heart problem. He said he realised his heart was beating slowly, and he had a hard time sleeping.

"I was told to drink a lot of water, and I have been given medicine for allergy," he said

Senior Superintendent George Odera said that out of 1,833 inmates, 1,333 were attended to on Saturday, with all of them undergoing blood and hypertension tests, and those with illnesses getting medicine.

He said the medical camps boost the government's efforts to provide medial care to inmates.

"Sometimes medical funds delay, but the number of prisoners keeps increasing, making it difficult to care for all of them," he said.

Early in the year, State Department for Correctional Services Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni, during an impromptu visit to the facility, denied claims inmates were taking care of their medical expenses.

"I don't think I have heard such, maybe that's a report from different quotas. If an inmate is sick, we take them to government hospitals. That is a bill that comes to the government. They eat for free, we dress them for free and take care of their health for free," she said.

Mahat said most of the patients admitted in recent years are at an advanced stages of their condition, making treatment difficult.

He said that most patients are unable to pay for medication, surgeries, or check-ups.

"I decided to engage in community work by incorporating other organisations, including Red Cross, to feed and treat vulnerable patients," he said.

He called on other doctors to do more.