Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

Prisons as a source of tuberculosis in Russia

Authors: Anya Sarang, Lucy Platt, Inna Vyshemirskaya and Tim Rhodes


Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyze poor management of tuberculosis (TB) prevention and treatment and explore parameters and causes of this problem drawing on qualitative interviews with former prisoners and medical specialists in Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors undertook a qualitative study, to explore access to HIV and TB treatment for people who inject drugs in Kaliningrad. The authors interviewed (outside of prisons) 15 patients and eight health specialists using a semi-structured guide. The authors analyzed the accounts thematically and health consequences of imprisonment emerged as a major theme.

Findings – Prisons are overcrowded and lack basic hygiene and infection control. Demand for medical services outstrip supply, HIV and TB prevention lacking, HIV and TB treatment is patchy, with no second-line drugs available for resistant forms. The prison conditions are generally degrading and unhealthy and many respondents perceived surviving prisons as a miracle. Cooperation with medical services in the community is poor.

Research limitations/implications – The authors used qualitative research methods, which do not rely on a representative sample. However, many of the structural barriers preventing effective TB treatment and prevention highlighted in this paper have been noted elsewhere, suggesting that findings are likely to reflect conditions elsewhere in Russia. The authors tried to include all possible points of view, as of the medical staff and the patients. However, due to resistance of the officials the authors were unable to conduct interviews with employees of the FCS. Since all the interviews are recalling past experience, the situation may have changed. This does not undermine importance of the findings, as they shed light on particular treatment experiences, and development of prison health system.

Originality/value – The paper contributes to the literature on prisons as a contributor to TB epidemic, including drug resistant forms. An urgent penitentiary reform in Russia should focus on HIV and TB prevention, case detection, availability of medications and effective treatments. Key to decreasing prison population and improving health is political reform aimed at introduction of effective drug treatment, de-penalization and de-criminalization of drug users and application of alternatives to incarceration.

Keywords: Tuberculosis, Qualitative research, Injecting drug use, HIV/AIDS, Correctional health care, Illicit drugs

Paper type – Research paper

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