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Deadly Pollsmoor prison diphtheria outbreak ‘under control’ claims Correction Services minister following inmate death

Deadly Pollsmoor prison diphtheria outbreak ‘under control’ claims Correction Services minister following inmate death
Pollsmoor Correctional Services in Cape Town. (Photo: Jim Mohlala)

Following the death of a 19-year-old inmate at the prison who had contracted the infection, National Commissioner of Correctional Services Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale has said that the situation is being contained with no new cases of diphtheria reported.

According to the National Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale, doctors have managed to contain the spread of diphtheria at Pollsmoor prison. 

The department previously confirmed that a 19-year-old inmate had died as a result of the outbreak. No new cases of diphtheria have been reported.

Speaking to Daily Maverick Thobakgale said a vaccination campaign will continue until the facility is clear of the disease. 

“I will not say the plan is to vaccinate all inmates and I will not say the plan is not to vaccinate all inmates, it is on the basis of screening and the assessment that we do,” said Thobakgale. 

The National Commissioner added, “Those that have shown symptoms are isolated and receive the necessary attention they need. We have a complement of health care professionals here that are led by a permanent doctor that is residing here at Pollsmoor”.

“We have seen that the numbers have not increased since we had one inmate losing his life. We have not had any losses for the past five days, we have not reported any new cases. And those that are isolated, most of them are actually negative. 

Death of inmate

“When the inmate showed signs of not feeling well, the Health Care officials treated him and a decision was taken that he be transferred to an outside hospital.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Confirmed diphtheria outbreak at Pollsmoor Prison as inmate dies

“At the time, the inmate showed malaise and respiratory symptoms hence the transfer to Victoria Hospital on 28 October 2023. He received further treatment and was tested for Diphtheria and the results came back positive on 2 November 2023. Unfortunately, the inmate’s condition deteriorated and he sadly passed away on 5 November 2023 at Groote Schuur Hospital,” a statement from the Department of Corrections reads.

Curbing transmission between inmates

Thobakgale said “What we do is when we admit new repremandees from court, we screen all of them and those that have symptoms of any kind of disease, we then isolate them and treat them, we have isolation facilities here at Pollsmoor than are adequate for the numbers that might come up.

“What we have done is to ensure that we heighten our hygiene measures, we also heightened health education, and the medical services orientation that we provide to inmates and also our officials have been strengthened.”

The commissioner said he is confident that the outbreak of diphtheria is confined to Pollsmoor and is being kept under control.

“The first step that we took was to report to the Department of Health.

“The results normally take five to six days, inmates that are under isolation will not be available to go to court. We have agreed in principle with the Department of Justice that they will resume those cases from the 1st of December, but for individual cases, we have to submit to each and every court, a request for postponement.”  

According to a statement released by the Department of Correctional Services, out of 54 inmates tested a total of eight tested positive and 46 tested negative. The department identified 15 Correctional Services officials as contacts, with only three presenting symptoms. 

“They were tested and released to isolate themselves at home. The provisional results have since come back negative, [and we are] awaiting confirmatory results,” the statement reads. DM


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