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Scores of prisoners in Bahrain launch hunger strike over scabies outbreak Open in fullscreen

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Scores of prisoners in Bahrain launch hunger strike over scabies outbreak

Over half of the prison's inmates are said to have been infected with scabies [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 January, 2020

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Prisoners in Bahrain are launching a hunger strike to demand improved medical care and conditions amid an outbreak of a contagious skin disease, which authorities have dismissed as 'allergies'.
More than one hundred inmates in a Bahrain detention centre are set to go on hunger strike in protest of poor medical care and unhygienic conditions that has led to an outbreak of scabies, the highly infectious skin disease, among over half of detainees, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

Prisoners of Bahrain's Dry Dock Detention Centre have long voiced complaints about the unsanitary conditions in the facility, including those in the building where the outbreak began.

Inmates say officers regularly raid their cells and confiscate spare clothing.

Scabies is caused by parasitic mites that burrow into the skin and cause intense itching. The highly contagious condition requires urgent medical treatment and immediate sterilisation of clothes and bedding.

The kingdom’s state-affiliated National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) released a statement claiming attributing the health concerns to "allergies", while calling on inmates to "adhere to the recommended health guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease".

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BIRD's Director of Advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, called the disease outbreak "shocking", saying it "reflects the level of suffering these young Bahraini inmates endure daily, and it is likely due to the overcrowded and unsanitary environment.

"Not only is the NIHR’s dismissal of the outbreak as allergies yet another cover-up, it also displays basic ignorance of public health as allergies are not contagious," he added.

Alwadaei called NIHR’s statement "farcical", adding that it "epitomises why independent bodies, including UN experts mandated to assess health and torture, must be allowed access to the country to carry out credible investigations".

Human rights groups have long protested violations in the kingdom, including inside the prison system.

According to BIRD, inmates at Dry Dock are subjected to a policy of isolation for indefinite periods of time, seemingly as a punishment for making international calls from the facility.

Physical and psychological torture have also been documented by past inmates, including denying medical treatment, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, and beatings.

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