Government creates working group to develop health plan in prisons

WHO/Europe launches report and debates interventions in Portugal

Photo: Bárbara Caetano | Sul Informação (file)

The Government created a working group in charge of preparing an Operational Plan for Health in the Portuguese Prison System, which aims to strengthen access to health care, identify remaining barriers and fill gaps in terms of prevention, access and continuity of care.

The Operational Plan for Health in the Context of Deprivation of Liberty for the period 2023-2030 intends to ensure that health in a prison context and in other contexts of deprivation of liberty (such as educational centers for young people or units for the internment of incompetent persons) is guaranteed with equality, quality and effectiveness with regard to epidemiological surveillance, health promotion and disease prevention, access, retention and continuity of health care, organizational measures in the National Health Service and in the Prison System, financial and human resources necessary, to research and development.

The joint dispatch from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education that creates this working group is published in the week in which Portugal hosts the presentation of the report The State of Health in Prisons for the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO), in sessions taking place this Wednesday at Infarmed, IP, in Lisbon, and, tomorrow, at the Auditorium of the National Museum Soares dos Reis, in Porto.

This WHO Prison Health Program toolkit (Health in Prisons Program – HIPP) characterizes the health response in the prison systems of the European region, allowing an assessment of the situation on health in the prison environment.

Topics such as the improvement of information systems and the involvement of all partners in the development of health policies in the prison context will be under debate, being the first time that WHO/Europe presents a report in this participatory format, with several panels that contemplate the intervention of international and host country experts.

Portugal is one of the 15 Member States of the World Health Organization (41,7%) in the European region where health care provided to the prison population is guaranteed by the National Health Service, under conditions similar to those offered to all other citizens. Such care is jointly supervised by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, and this articulation – whose partnerships have proved fruitful – is not common in all European countries.

Access to vaccination is an area in which Portuguese prisons compare favorably with those in other countries in the WHO European region. The same goes for screening for HIV, hepatitis B and C and sexually transmitted infections, which are carried out in all prisons on a voluntary basis, which is also not a common practice in all European countries.

The report is the result of a series of surveys directed at 36 countries and has as reference the year 2020, marked by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and by exceptional measures to prevent and control the infection, with repercussions also on prison systems.

And it reveals that Portugal was, in 2020, the fourth European country with the fewest new admissions to the prison system, with the occupancy rate of Prison Establishments (PE) having decreased from 114%, in 2016, to 90,4% in the year under review. Despite the context of return to normality experienced since 2021, a positive trajectory for this indicator remains.

Committed to deepening the articulation work of the Ministries of Health and Justice, the Government takes the opportunity to highlight the joint initiative Balcão SNS 24, which allows access by all citizens deprived of liberty to the digital services of the Ministry of Health, namely teleconsultations with any SNS unit.

The WHO report had the collaboration of the Institute of Public Health of the University of Porto, on this occasion recognized as a WHO Collaborating Center for Behavioral and Social Determinants of Noncommunicable Diseases, which is also a recognition of the commitment of the national academy in the continuous development and evaluation of public health policies that improve the quality of life of all citizens.