The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has launched an emergency nutrition programme in the main prison of the capital Abidjan in a bid to stamp out a beriberi epidemic.
The life-threatening disease is caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency and generally results in neurological and cardio-vascular disorders.
Twice a week for a month, the ICRC will be handing out a food supplement containing vitamins and minerals, which the 5,000 inmates will take with their normal rations.
“As soon as we were told about the beriberi epidemic in June, we started distributing medicine. But we could only give medication to the people we knew to have the disease, and the problem is spreading.” explained Chiara Traverso, the ICRC’s prisons coordinator for Côte d’Ivoire. According to the prison dispensary there have been 181 cases of beriberi so far, and seven people have died. “In consultation with the authorities, we decided to eradicate the problem by adopting a global preventive approach.”
“The programme we are launching today should have short-term effects,” said Claude-Alain Zappella, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Abidjan. “To prevent relapses, it will be necessary to make prison food more varied.”