The death of an inmate of coronavirus in Sylhet jail after the authorities confirmed over two dozens of virus cases among prison guards and inmates across the country has raised concern among prisoners as well as jail authorities.
Inmate Ahmed Hossain, accused in a murder case, died while undergoing treatment at the isolation unit at Sylhet Shaheed Shamsuddin Hospital on Sunday, two days after he was hospitalised with coronavirus symptoms.
His sample was sent to PCR lab of MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital where he was found positive for the virus on Monday, said Dr Anisur Rahman, assistant director of Sylhet Divisional Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Ahmed Hossain, 55, son of Aiyub Ali of Ghoraigram village under Kanaighat upazila in Sylhet, was brought to the jail on March 5, a couple of days since the coronavirus began spreading in the country.
According to jail sources, more than 23 prison guards and two inmates tested positive for coronavirus or COVID-19 in different prisons across the country.
Many fear that the virus may spread throughout prisons where the health of the incarcerated people is often neglected.
Sylhet prison authorities said they admitted Ahmed to the hospital on May 8 as he had been suffering from fever, cough, body aches and pain.
The inmate’s death also raised question about how he had been infected with the deadly virus in custody with many demanding an investigation into the death.
Dr Ashik Anwar Bahar, an associate professor of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital, said the prisoner might have contracted with the virus in any of three ways.
“He might have contracted the virus from prison guards who performed duties inside the jail and visit outside. Relatives’ visit and newcomers in the jail might also reasons behind the infection,” he said.
Mamunur Rashid, a student of Kanaighat Degree College and cousin of the deceased, told Bangladesh Post that some relatives visited Ahmed Hossain in the jail some days ago.
Abul Hasanat Chowdhury Dilal, a neighbour of Ahmed Hossain, said that the villagers and people of neighbouring villages are worried following the death.
Against this backdrop, relatives of the deceased requested the authorities concerned to bury Ahmed Hossain in Sylhet city, about 40 kilometres far from the village. So the body was not buried until filing of this report on Tuesday evening, two days after the death.
Some health experts said that confirmation of the death and several coronavirus cases underlines the need for reducing the prison population in light of the pandemic.
There are nearly 90,000 prisoners against the capacity of 41,244 in 68 jails across the country.
Some of the prisoners have, however, been released recently after the government has taken decision to free about 3,000 inmates to ease the accommodation crisis and minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Prof Dr Md Azizur Rahman, a respiratory medicine specialist, said that the jail authorities should make special arrangements for meeting relatives so that the prisoners and their relatives maintain safe distance.
Health experts said prisoners have often experienced poor health and limited access.
They said social distancing -- staying at least three feet from other people, not gathering in groups, and staying out of crowded places -- is impossible for prisoners.
The prisons are often overcrowded and have inmates and staff coming and going creating high risk of virus transmission.
Abdul Hye Al-Hadi, a researcher and writer in Sylhet, said an investigation into the death in custody is necessary to know how the authorities are handling vulnerable prisoners during the pandemic.