Coronavirus detected in Haiti's largest prison

Port-au-Prince (AFP) –


Nearly a dozen detainees in Haiti's largest prison have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, an administrator told AFP Thursday, as fears mounted that the disease could spread like wildfire through the country's dirty and overcrowded correctional system.

Last week, approximately 50 prisoners in the Port-au-Prince penitentiary reported having a fever, prompting health officials to test 12 inmates as a sample.

Results indicated that 11 were positive for COVID-19.

"I can confirm that COVID-19 entered the prison," Charles Nazaire Noel, director of the national prison system, told AFP.

"We fought a tough battle to avoid that, but unfortunately, it happened. We are not going to give up, we will continue to strengthen the prison sanitation system," he said, adding that he has asked the Ministry of Health to screen all of the penitentiary's inmates.

Haiti has more than 11,000 people behind bars -- most of them waiting to go on trial, sometimes for years -- in such deplorable conditions that human rights activists liken it to torture.

The poorest country in the Americas has reported 663 cases of the novel coronavirus, and has carried just over 2,100 tests since the first cases were detected on March 19.

According to the latest official report Thursday, COVID-19 has killed 22 people in Haiti.

Now that the virus has entered the prison, located in the heart of the capital, officials fear the death toll could quickly mount.

The Port-au-Prince facility, built to house a maximum of 778 inmates, holds more than 3,600 prisoners, more than three-quarters of whom have been waiting for a trial for months or even years.

"Prison cells in Haiti are small rooms with space for 10 to 20 people if you use the rule of 4.5 square meters per prisoner," Marie Rosy Auguste Ducena of the National Human Rights Network, said in early April.

"But these cells hold up to 80 people. So you can just imagine the levels of overcrowding these people are forced to endure," she added.