Covid-19 in Malawi: vulnerable prisoners at risk

Inmates in Malawi’s severely overcrowded prisons are at heightened risk from Covid-19. Prison authorities are doing the best they can with the resources available, by providing buckets and soap for hand-washing and taking the temperature of new arrivals, but realistically, it would be exceptionally hard to contain an outbreak of the virus in prison.

Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, has directed the prison service to reduce overcrowding by releasing prisoners who were convicted of petty offences or have served a large portion of their sentence, but this criteria does not cover many elderly and vulnerable prisoners originally sentenced to life imprisonment.

Reprieve consultant Chipiliro Lulanga has visited Zomba Central Prison several times in recent days to speak to prisoners. Below are some quotes from his interviews.

Cydreck Nambazo is 58 years old, very frail and HIV positive. He works as a carer in prison, helping sick prisoners look after themselves. He said: “The cells are overcrowded and this risks our lives. I am very scared. I heard that the virus is very fatal to those who are sick and weak. I am in that category and I fear for my life.”

Twoboy Jacobs is 71 years old and has been in prison for 21 years. He has had tuberculosis and suffers joint pain and intestinal ailments. He said:  “Rumour has it that they may release some people which is commendable. I wish life imprisonment was defined in a way that when someone is very old, he would be released. But as it is now I think I will die in prison. This corona will find me here and finish me.”

Chafika Ndege is also 71 years old. He has served 12 years in prison. He said: “I am not sick, but I am not strong anymore. My body is weak now and the ability to fight diseases is no longer intact. I fear that if by any chance I get this virus then it will be hard to survive. We are in danger here. Chances are high that if the virus spreads here many people would die due to poor health.”

On April 25, Chipiliro Lulanga appeared on national broadcaster MBC 2 to discuss how to protect these elderly and vulnerable prisoners. You can hear his interview with presenter Frank Kandu below.