, KINSHASA, DR Congo, Jan 7 – Eleven prisoners have died since the start of the year in Kinshasa’s biggest prison, staff and NGO sources said on Tuesday, blaming shortages of drugs and food.
“We have recorded 11 deaths since January 1. The latest three died yesterday (Monday) because there were no medicines to treat them and their families lacked the resources,” an official at the Makala prison told AFP, asking not to be named.
“Since last October, the state has disbursed no funds to supply the prison with medicines and food,” he added.
Makala prison is the biggest in the Democratic of Republic of Congo’s capital, housing nearly 9,000 inmates in a colonial-era facility with an intended maximum capacity of 1,500, according to official figures.
“Makala and almost all the prisons around the country are no longer being supplied with food and medicine,” said Emmanuel Cole, head of a Congolese non-governmental organisation active in jails across the vast central African nation.
“It’s true, there was a delay in paying suppliers and this explains the break in supplies to Makala,” Justice Minister Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende confirmed to AFP.
“But the situation was put to rights yesterday (Monday),” he added.
“The figure of around 10 deaths may be understandable,” the minister said.
“But the doctors also need to tell us if these deaths were caused by the break in drugs or food supplies.”
Cole put Makala’s population at 8,618 inmates, of whom only 500 had been tried and convicted.
Work is under way to renovate at least three wings of the large jail, but the activity has forced the prisoners to live in increasingly cramped, unhealthy circumstances.
The onetime colonial prisons of DR Congo are hugely overcrowded and dilapidated. Surviving in appalling hygienic conditions, inmates are exposed to many diseases, malnutrition and dehydration.