At least 40 cases of tuberculosis have been reported in an Iranian women’s prison, a former prisoner and activist said on Monday.
The site of the reported outbreak, Qarchak prison, is reputed to be one of the most dangerous in Iran because of its inhumane medical and psychological conditions.
Located in the Varamin area, the prison is known to have unsanitary conditions and is crowded with inmates, raising fears that the disease could easily spread.
Atena Daemi, a children’s rights activist and former political prisoner who was recently released from prison after serving a seven-year sentence, said the outbreak was reported in ward six of the prison.
“Around 40 people in Ward 6 of Qarchak prison are suspected of tuberculosis and they have been tested. There are 100 prisoners in this ward,” Mr Daemi said on Twitter.
“Qarchak prison has recently been renamed the Great Tehran Women's Prison, and it is the largest women's prison in the Middle East with a population of about 1,500 people in danger.”
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads through inhaling droplets from coughs or sneezes and attacks the lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body.
In 2020, WHO estimates put the rates of TB among the Iranian population at 13 out of every 100,000 people.
There is a vaccine for the disease — Bacille Calmette-Guerin.
Ms Daemi has spent at least seven years in prisons across the country including Evin, Warchak and Lakan prison for promoting civil, human and children's rights as well as opposing the death penalty.
Last week, she said the first case was detected in mid-June and the woman in question were only quarantined for a week before being transferred back to ward six.
“Due to the lack of care towards the prisoners on ward six, three more people are now infected,” she said on Instagram last week.
“The inadequate, inhumane conditions at Qarchak and the large number of inmates, all prisoners are at risk of all kinds of diseases.”
Earlier this year, Amnesty International published a report accusing Iranian officials of committing shocking human rights breaches across the country.
The organisation documented how prison authorities routinely cause or contribute to deaths in custody, including by blocking or delaying prisoners’ access to emergency hospital treatment.
“The Iranian authorities’ chilling disregard for human life has effectively turned Iran’s prisons into a waiting room of death for ill prisoners, where treatable conditions tragically become fatal,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Deaths in custody resulting from the deliberate denial of health care amount to arbitrary deprivation of life, which is a serious human rights violation under international law.”