Over 2,600 detainees have been treated for scabies in an eradication campaign run by the Malian prison authorities, with the support of the ICRC, in the prisons of Sikasso, Kati and Bamako.
"During our most recent prison visits, we realized that scabies was a real problem," said Ishukwe N'sindi, ICRC doctor. "Some inmates were covered in a rash from head to toe and complaining of skin irritation."
Overcrowding makes prisons a prime breeding ground for certain diseases, especially skin infections, giving reason to focus scabies eradication efforts in these facilities more than elsewhere.
"More and more inmates were complaining of skin problems," said Ali Diakité, director of Sikasso prison, in southern Mali. "So the authorities decided that we should treat everyone, including the prison staff. Buildings, clothing and the inmates' bedding were also disinfected. The health-care centre in Sikasso and the ICRC were a great help in this task."
The ICRC works in close cooperation with the detaining authorities and the National Health Directorate to improve detainees' access to health care. Measures include ensuring that inmates undergo a medical examination when they first arrive, improving inmates' access to health-care providers and stocking prison infirmaries with the necessary medicines.
Visiting people deprived of their liberty
In 2013, the ICRC visited more than 3,500 people held in police stations and in the detention centres of Bamako, Kati, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Sévaré, Timbuktu and Gao. These visits were taking place even before conflict broke out in the north, but were formalized with the signing of an agreement with the Malian government in April 2013. The agreement grants the ICRC permission to visit all places of detention and all detainees.
"When we visit a prison, our aim is to ensure that the conditions of detention for all inmates meet internationally recognized standards," said Christoph Luedi, head of the ICRC delegation in Mali. "Whatever the reason for their incarceration, they have the right to be treated with humanity. Their physical and mental well-being must be upheld and their basic needs met."
During these visits, ICRC delegates meet with the prison authorities and then with the inmates, one by one and in private, to assess their treatment and conditions of detention. They see all detainees, but especially monitor those arrested in connection with the conflict.
Restoring family links
The ICRC offers inmates the possibility of contacting their loved ones by telephone or through short Red Cross messages, containing family news only.
"In this vast country, people are sometimes imprisoned far from home," said Mamadou Cellou Bah, the ICRC delegate in charge of this programme. "Contacting their families can help them to break their isolation and bring them closer to their loved ones, from whom some have been separated for a long time."
In 2013, volunteers from the Mali Red Cross facilitated the exchange of 130 Red Cross messages and 170 telephone calls were made between inmates and their families.
Dialogue with the detaining authorities
In line with its usual practice, the ICRC submits a confidential report to the detaining authority containing its findings and recommendations.
Regular and constructive exchanges with the National Directorate of Penitentiary Administration and Supervised Education enable the coordination of efforts to improve conditions of detention.
The ICRC also supports the authorities in improving prison infrastructure, such as building latrines, kitchens and water-storage facilities, and in distributing hygiene products to detainees.