Analysis Opinion

Africa: health beyond epidemics

Prison health remains neglected in the incarceration system. In the absence of a comprehensive approach, prisoners rely on their families, NGOs and international programmes to access the care they need.

Frédéric Le Marcis is an anthropologist. He focuses on epidemic responses in prison environment in different African countries. Here are his insights.

ICPR and Prison Insider asked several experts worldwide to share their insights in the framework of the project Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in 10 countries. Read Frédéric Le Marcis’s insights.


Prison infirmaries, when available, are rarely integrated into the overall healthcare system. The administrations do little to meet the vital needs of prisoners. Nutritional deficiencies are common, skin diseases are recurrent, and prisoners often depend on the financial means of their families or NGOs when it comes to healthcare access. These difficulties, highlighted by COVID-19, are not new. They worsen the prison population’s social illegitimacy, as well as the reluctance of States to offer convicted persons what they cannot guarantee to the general population.

There is a lack of interest in health, in favour of security.

The link between prison and epidemics (HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis) is described as a perfect storm.

Structural and geographic characteristics of power in prison determine the way in which individuals cope with illness, whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor.

Prison constitutes a denial of rights, while it should instead re-establish the contract between citizens who offend, and society.

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Frédéric Le Marcis

Frédéric Le Marcis is an anthropologist. He focuses on epidemic responses in prison environment in different African countries. He currently lives and works in Guinea, where he leads a research programme on the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the project

Understanding and reducing the use of imprisonment in ten countries

This comparative research and policy project is led by the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research (ICPR), based at Birkbeck, University of London. To understand the causes and consequences of over-incarceration worldwide, ICPR has worked with a large network of NGOs, academic researchers and practitioners spanning this diverse selection of countries. ICPR partnered with Prison Insider in the latter stages of the project to shed light on aspects of prisoners’ lived experience in custody before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project team collaborated to gather national experts’ insights, and to facilitate a continuing global conversation around the key research findings.
The project focuses on five main themes that can be found in the drop-down menu.
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