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  • Prisoners in La Tramacua prison suffer from overcrowding, sweltering Caribbean heat, lack of water, basic hygiene and medical services.

    Prisoners in La Tramacua prison suffer from overcrowding, sweltering Caribbean heat, lack of water, basic hygiene and medical services. | Photo: AFP

Inmates who suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are going untreated due to a lack of medicine.

Colombian Justice Minister Jorge Londoño had no choice but to declare Thursday an emergency inside the country's jails over the critical healthcare situation of prisoners. 

The decree, which will expire at the end of the calendar year, allows prison officials to take emergency measures to attend to the problems plaguing many Colombian prisoners, such as a lack of medicine and healthcare personnel. 

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“These measures seek to solve urgent matters, the situation some prisons are facing where health is critical. But we have to decide what the health system that we will use with the prison population," Londoño was quoted by Semana magazine.

According to the Ministry of Justice there are 611 inmates who are HIV positive, 89 with cancer, 1,112 with diabetes and require insulin, 2,884 with psychological problems and 188 with respiratory issues. 

The Colombian Ombudsperson found that of Colombia's 134 prisons and jails, 55 percent do not dispense medicine and nearly 10,000 patients have not received requested care. There is only one doctor for every 496 inmates. 

Many healthcare professionals, such as nurses, no longer work inside the jails due to a lack of payment or refuse to do so after inmates became violent in the face of the crisis. 

Semana magazine found that the crisis has its roots in the poor administration of funds and a failure of Colombia's privatized healthcare system. 

In Colombia, healthcare is managed by “Health Promoting Entities” that sell healthcare packages to the public. The Health Promoting Entity that was contracted to provide care to inmates, known as Caprecom, was dissolved by the Ministry of Health in late 2015 over irregularities and poor service.

An investigation by teleSUR found deplorable conditions in one of Colombia's most notorious prisons, La Tramacua, where medical care was denied not due to a lack of availability but as a form of torture.

Human rights defenders have called for La Tramacua, which was built in 2000, to be closed.

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