The Philippines — The high concentration of prisons in the Philippines implicates the health and safety of everyone in the facilities, said one of the panellists from the country’s Department of Health Jose Bienvenido Leabres in a webinar on Wednesday (20 May).
The webinar is held by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Philippines as part of the second phase discussion on “Drug Use and Prison Health in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
It also served as a follow-up discussion to a webinar held by IDPC on 14 May about the challenging over-incarceration in Southeast Asia during the pandemic.
Limitations on visitations and other restriction imposed in prisons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic have not only affected the mental health of prisoners and persons deprived of liberty (DPL), but also that of the frontline workers who also experience burnout, as they are required to stay in prisons for a long time without going home.
“In any emergency situation, it is common for individuals to feel stress, worried, and having these uncertainties,” said Jasmine Vergara, World Health Organization (WHO)’s representative for the Philippines.
She added that these reactions may stem from fears of losing a job, getting infected by or infecting others during long periods of isolation and quarantine.
Meanwhile, Alampay URC RenewHealth Project‘s Gina Hechanova explained that individual with symptoms of burnout will experience chronic fatigue, difficulty in falling asleep, incapability to function as normal, and a change of habits such as eating less than usual.
Annabelle Rosco, the regional second division of BJMP conducts psychosocial telepsychology for PDLs through online counselling for a group of 10 persons.
“They all miss their families, especially PDLs who are mothers,” she said.
Dr Rosco also suggested that their stress is caused by the lockdown in jails. Even when video calls are allowed, many families struggle with a poor internet connection as they live in remote areas.
This raised PDLs’ tensions as their worries about their families’ condition heighten.
Dr Rosco said that the Mental Health Behavioral Science Division of BJMP is actively providing telepsychology for prison personnel, which includes stress management seminars and psychosocial counselling.
Each regional office has also designated a regional psychologist and psychometrician to provide such services.
Southern Illinois University Prof Raymund Narag added that some prisons have also arranged job rotations, where some of the workers are assigned inside the prisons while others are deployed to the outside areas.
If they are infected by COVID-19, they will be quarantined in a hotel for 14 days and sent home for another 14 days of self-isolation.
Separately, Dr Vergara shared an illustrated guide created by WHO to equip people with practical skills to help to cope with stress.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) also came up with a guide to help COVID-19 responders understanding and implementing the basic psychosocial skills.
Apart from discussing how to maintain the health of PDLs, UNODC Senior Policy Advisor Olivier Lermet also wishes that it can result in creating practical guidelines.
Therefore, he encourages participation from government bodies and related agencies as well as organisations to share their input, example or recommendations.
Lermet highlighted, however, that the policy of system decision is not in place in many countries’ resources as there are also gaps in Myanmar and Indonesia.
“My point is to just do it now. Try to correct or improve [it], or we will lose time as well as lives in the times of COVID-19,” he added.