by Lucy McCann, Public Health Speciality Registrar
The ICRC hosted the first Regional Conference for Arab States on Health Care in Detention in Kuwait City in December 2019. The motivation for the conference was to create a platform for sharing knowledge and best practices with a view to promoting health care in detention and in society across the region[1]. With this in mind, I was honoured to be invited as an international guest speaker to share the work the National Health and Justice team at Public Health England had done to develop a set of gender-specific evidence-based standards to improve the health and wellbeing of women in prison in England. 
Over the three days, 100 participants from 16 Arab countries and the ICRC attended, from across the prison and healthcare system. The conference was structured around five themes:

  • Laws in relation to health care in detention

  • Health governance by the Ministry of Health

  • Women and accompanying children

  • Mental health and psychosocial support

  • Health information systems

Unfortunately, I was only there for one of the three days, however I really valued having the opportunity to be part of the ‘Women and accompanying children’ session. Listening to the other speakers discuss their experiences and being part of the reflective and interesting discussions which followed was enlightening and thought-provoking.
I was extremely proud to share the work we have done at Public Health England, working collaboratively with our partners to take a holistic and system-wide approach to improving the health and wellbeing of this vulnerable group, who face significant health inequalities. It was a new experience for me to deliver a presentation to a non-English speaking conference and I was grateful to the translators who provided a fantastic service translating in real-time so people from different parts of the world and with different first languages could all participate and contribute to this important conference! My presentation, and the ones that followed on the Provision of emergency health services for vulnerable groups at places of detention in Iraq and Laws and procedures in relation to women and accompanying children in detention in Tunisia, produced some interesting dialogue, with themes emerging around: funding, poor mental health of women in prison, community sentencing, issues with children accompanying their mothers in prison and the need for continuing professional education for health care in detention.
Another noteworthy outcome for me was understanding some of the challenges facing countries within the region and how this differs to the challenges we (or countries from other parts of the world) may face. I was struck by how important regional conferences such as this are in terms of ideas sharing and learning from peers as many of the barriers and enablers may be similar across the region but not necessarily worldwide, thus leading to more fruitful discussions.
Judging by not only the high quality presentations and subsequent discussion, but also the buzz and networking which happened during the coffee breaks, over lunch and at the course dinner, I am sure that the conference provided a great opportunity for those attending to take key learning back to their home countries in the hope that real change can be made in strengthening prison health systems and improving the health and wellbeing of all persons in prison across the Arab States.
You can find PHE's Gender Specific Standards for Prison Healthcare here



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