KARACHI: The provincial government of Sindh in southern Pakistan has launched a vaccination drive to inoculate prisoners aged 50 and above as part of a campaign that rights groups hope other provinces will follow.
In Karachi Central Jail, where the drive was launched by Kazi Nazir Ahmed, inspector-general of prisons, on Wednesday, after almost a quarter of the jail population had tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) last June. The jail, with a capacity of 2,400 prisoners, currently houses 5,000 inmates.
“COVID-19 is the biggest disaster that man is facing now. We are proud of the government of Sindh, which has taken effective and timely measures,” Ahmed told Arab News, adding that the prison department was the first in the country to begin vaccinating inmates and jail staff.
The drive aims to inoculate 1,882 inmates and 641 jail staff across prisons in Sindh.
Jails in Pakistan are massively crowded, with inmates vulnerable not only because they live in high-risk settings in often older and poorly ventilated buildings but also because they often have health conditions that worsen prognosis should they fall ill, public health experts say.
Overall, Sindh has an overcrowding ratio of 32.23 percent, with 17,239 inmates lodged in 24 prisons meant for 13,038 inmates, according to figures from jail authorities.
Sarah Belal, founder of Justice Project Pakistan, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, wrote on Twitter: “I cannot be more excited and relieved to hear this. Prisoner and prison officials are one of the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our community. I desperately hope that other provinces will follow Sindh’s example.”
In Karachi’s Central Jail, 790 prisoners and jail staff members will get vaccine jabs, followed by Central Prison Sukkur, where 696 people will be inoculated.
In Hyderabad Central Prison, 663 people will get shots, and in district prison Malir Karachi 550 will be vaccinated. Of the prisoners getting vaccinated, 920 are under trial inmates, 862 are convicted criminals and 100 are detainees.
“We believe that people in prison have the basic rights enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan, and that’s why the government of Sindh has started this initiative,” Murtaza Wahab, a provincial government spokesperson, told Arab News.
“This is a positive step and will save lives,” Muhammad Hassan Sehto, Karachi Central Jail’s superintendent, told Arab News.
“Vaccination was far from our reach, and even the people outside jail are deprived of it. We are thankful to the administration for this.”
A prisoner from Niger told Arab News he felt safe after learning about the vaccine drive.
“We had many prisoners who were ill of the coronavirus,” he told Arab News at Karachi Central Jail. “I think we will be safer with the vaccination.”
A Pakistani prisoner added: “I am grateful that all of us in Pakistan will go ahead to get this vaccine and, hopefully, we will save Pakistan from this menace.”