Philippines: ICRC steps up support to congested detention facilities as COVID-19 looms

With the continued spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed its deep concern for the health of detainees and detention staff, given the current levels of congestion in detention facilities in the Philippines.

“Physical distancing is a privilege simply not available to people behind bars. Overcrowding and limited health services mean infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread fast and wide inside detention facilities,” said Boris Michel, ICRC head of delegation in the Philippines.

The ICRC has been working in prisons in over 90 countries and has a well-established cooperation with the Philippine authorities on addressing causes and consequences of jail congestion by strengthening health systems and improving access to healthcare for detainees, particularly those with tuberculosis. Building on that ongoing cooperation, the ICRC offered its advice and stepped up its support to help deal with an urgent health threat.

“We commend the measures the authorities have put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It is important to take stock of the potential gravity of the situation and step up measures transversally in all places of detention—from police lockups, jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), prisons under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), to the provincial jails and immigration detention facilities. Time is of the essence,” he added.

Working closely with detention authorities, the ICRC focused its immediate efforts on setting up four isolation centers for inmates who will be confirmed positive for COVID-19 or classified as persons under investigation (PUI), with mild to moderate symptoms.

The 48-bed isolation facility in the BJMP’s new Quezon City Jail site in Payatas, which will serve entire Metro Manila region, received 17 PUI detainees yesterday, the first day of operations. It consists of four tents set up with the support of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), complete with electricity, water, sanitation, as well as with medical consumables, basic medical equipment and hospital furniture and hygiene materials.
Progress on the set up in other three sites continues in the new San Fernando District Jail in Pampanga (for Region 3), Quezon District Jail in Pagbilao (Region 4A), both operating under the BJMP, and the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa under the BuCor. 

To ensure appropriate implementation of prevention and case management, the support for the sites’ operations includes infection control training and three-months supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene/ disinfectant kits and basic medical equipment for emergency response teams and isolation center staff.

The ICRC aims to secure humane treatment and conditions of detention of inmates, regardless of the reasons for their arrest. In coordination with the Philippine National Police, the ICRC donated personal hygiene items for 2,000 arrested people as well as cleaning material for the common areas of 20 police lock-ups in Metro Manila.

The ICRC also seeks to ensure that detainees have means to maintain contact with their families. Since family visits have been suspended, the ICRC decided to deliver tablet devices for select detention facilities, enabling more inmates to be in touch with their family members.

Beyond its work in detention, the ICRC also focuses on protecting and assisting people affected by armed conflict, and through its presence in Mindanao, the ICRC has been closely monitoring COVID-19 situation in conflict-affected areas by keeping close contact with local authorities, health facilities and affected communities.

It has been working to provide PPE to frontline health workers in priority hospitals in conflict-affected areas, to include identified COVID-19 centers. It is also coordinating with local water boards such as the Marawi City Water District, which received 15 chlorine drums and eventually fuel for its pumping stations to ensure the supply of potable water for thousands of residents and displaced people.

“We’re also monitoring the access to accurate COVID-19 information for people in remote areas, and the respect for health workers. We urge everyone to ensure that health workers can perform their work unhampered by threats or any form of discrimination,” Michel said.

The ICRC also gave technical contribution to the country’s infection control guidance and response protocols and has donated 50 infection-control body bags to the national management of the dead and missing (MDM) cluster.

The ICRC has also assisted the PRC National Blood Service and chapters in Mindanao with ambulance/blood services, with donation of masks, disinfectants and thermal scanners, and financial support to purchase such materials.

On March 27, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement launched an appeal for 800 million Swiss francs (USD 819.7M), a call for States to boost the resources for countries with limited capacity to respond to this urgent threat


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