Armed with infrared thermometers, fumigators and self-made masks, the more than 9,300 detainees in the Peruvian prison of Lurichango, the most populous in Latin America, came together to eradicate the covid-19 from their cells and prevent the new coronavirus rock your 24 overcrowded pavilions.
There was no sign that this Lima penitentiary, designed to house 2,500 prisoners, would respond with solidarity to control the covid-19 outbreak that began in April, a threat that two months later appears close to disappearing, according to the EFE team was able to check during a visit.
Although the coronavirus is still inside the prison, cases are decreasing and calm has returned to cells and corridors after panic prompted detainees to participate in a wave of riots that hit several prisons in Peru in April, trying to get out to save themselves. disease.
Across the country, 2,606 prisoners were infected with the coronavirus, of which 249 died. There are still 52 hospitalized and 1,530 are already recovered.
In Lurichango, which currently houses 9,322 prisoners (almost 10% of the more than 94,000 that make up the country’s prison population), 31 were killed by the coronavirus. 322 tests were carried out, of which 158 were positive. Doctor Jorge Cuzquén, the prison’s chief health officer, suspects that the actual number of cases was much higher.
“The situation was very critical,” he told EFE. According to him, there was a beginning of rebellion on April 28, the day after the detainees mutinied in Miguel Castro prison, just a kilometer away, after the record of nine deaths by the coronavirus at the site.
“We explained to them everything we had planned to do and they ended the protest,” said the acting president of Peru’s National Penitentiary Institute (Inpe), Rafael Castillo, who took office in the midst of a wave of rebellions.
Lurigancho needed an urgent answer. Many prisoners have illnesses that could be life-threatening if they contract covid-19. An entire pavilion houses 500 detainees with tuberculosis. Another 280 have HIV and another 353 are at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure or old age.
“We were very concerned that the virus would spread, but thanks to the protocols the number of infected people decreased,” said Gustavo Martínez, incarcerated in Pavilion 2, who is now part of a prevention group that is in charge of evaluating his companions to detect possible contagions. and notify the authorities.
Each pavilion has such a brigade. Having detainees as allies in prevention is part of Inpe’s new strategy to combat covid-19 in prisons and has transformed Lurigancho into a model for Peru’s other 67 prison units.
“If each one acts only on his side, we will not be able to overcome this disease. We have to work together,” said Castillo.
Hunting the covid-19
In the central corridor of Lurigancho, called “rua da União”, as well as the main street in the historic center of Lima, the prisoners who are part of the brigades take care of the entrance to the pavilions.
They protect themselves from head to toe in biosafety suits and aim with an electronic thermometer at the heads of all people who want to enter the buildings. Devices are often disinfected.
“The prison population knows that they can come and talk to us if they have any symptoms or illnesses,” said Martínez, who, like the other officers in charge of the brigades, received training in the use of devices such as a pulse oximeter, which measures blood oxygenation.
The case of pavilion 2 is exemplary, as so far there has only been one case of covid-19. “It was detected in time and, luckily, it was mild. It is nothing compared to what you see on the streets,” Alberto, a prisoner waiting to be examined, told the report.
In this pavilion, prisoners also produce their own masks. They are woven in the old shoe store of the prison and help to protect the local population.
“Faced with the need, we had to change and adapt to the situation. We transmitted our concerns to the authorities, to see how we could help everyone,” said Segundo Vidarte, in charge of the shoe store.
When prisoners discover a colleague with apparent symptoms of covid-19, he is taken to the prison football field. There, a health center with campaign modules was improvised, where the prison’s medical team examines them in more detail and uses radiography to see the state of their lungs.
If the symptoms are mild, they are given medicine and they return to their home pavilion to isolate themselves in a 14-day quarantine. If the case is moderate, they are isolated and under observation in the workshop of pavilion 18, converted into a large hospital room with 70 beds, where a team of 60 health professionals works.
“I spent ten days there and managed to recover,” commented a young detainee who won the coronavirus in this environment, which at its worst had 40 beds occupied at once. Now, there are only six patients. Only if they get worse are they transported to a hospital.
“The idea is to make an epidemiological protection ring and stabilize the detainee inside the penitentiary to prevent him from being taken to the public health system, which is already very saturated,” explained Castillo.
Thanks to this strategy, there have been no deaths from covid-19 in Lurigancho for more than a month, as the cases were detected early and did not turn into severe pneumonia.
Outside prison, the risk of contagion remains very high and hospitals are full. The pandemic continues in action in Peru, which is the sixth country in the world and the second in Latin America with the most confirmed cases of covid-19, with more than 251,000 people infected, of whom more than 8,200 have died.