- In Russia's overcrowded prison system
a deadly disease is on the march. Many of these prisoners have a new untreatable
form of tuberculosis (TB) and it is spreading with terrifying speed.
- Ten per cent of Russia's one million
prisoners suffer from TB and 20% of them are thought to have the drug-resistant
strain - which means 20,000 people are condemned to die.
- The disease is multiplying in the festering
conditions of Russia's overcrowded cells.
- In many prisons inmates have to sleep
in shift. Poor diet, stress and depressed immune systems make the prisoners
vulnerable targets. TB does not distinguish between the gravity of the
- One prisoner tells his story: "I
lost my freedom for stealing three sacks of barley and now I'm ill with
tuberculosis. Maybe I will get better, maybe I won't - but I doubt I'll
get better in here."
- Time bomb
- Prison clinics cannot afford to treat
patients with the full course of drugs, so the disease becomes resistant
and even more difficult and expensive to cure.
- Russia's penal system is becoming a time
bomb for the rest of the world. Once TB-infected prisoners step outside
the prison gates, there is nothing to stop them spreading the disease onto
the streets of Russian cities and beyond.
- Most of the people standing outside a
European charity run clinic in Moscow are ex-prisoners. Many of them have
TB and all are homeless.
- Because they are not registered with
the city authorities, the Russian health system refuses to treat them.
- Ancient menace
- Tine Demeulenaere of the charity Medecins
sans Frontiers says: "From prisons, inmates catch TB. They are not
cured or only half-cured and when they are released they go out onto the
- "They infect other people, their
wife and children and these people also become ill and in turn infect others
who might travel and in this way it can be all over the world before you
- The clinic is one of the few places in
Russia where ex-prisoners can go for treatment but it barely scratches
the surface of the problem - drug resistant TB is well beyond its resources.
- Outside the clinic walls an ancient menace
is on the move again and Russia seems powerless to cope.