Nutritional deficiency hits 12 prisoners

After the Orong incident in Samdrup Jongkhar which resulted in the death of two students, this time a 42- year old prisoner, Karma Gyeltshen from Lungzor jail, Trashigang has been referred to Thimphu Hospital with “peripheral neuropathy” (nerve damage) reportedly due to nutritional deficiency.

‘Peripheral Neuropathy’, according to a health official, is a collection of disorders that occur when nerves of the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system of the brain and spinal cord) are damaged.

He was referred from Monggar Referral Hospital on March 23.

Captain Ugyen Tshewang of Lungzor Jail said that two more prisoners displaying similar symptoms were referred to Trashigang hospital and a further nine are being treated in the prison itself. A dietician said reasons that could have led to nerve damage other than nutritional deficiency could be toxins, food, fungal infection or oil containing arsenic in food. “We haven’t analyzed the problem yet.”

Meanwhile, the health official said that as an offshoot of peripheral neuropathy, the victim is also suffering from leg weakness or ‘Ataxia,’ meaning lack of muscle coordination which may affect speech, eye movements, the ability to swallow, walking, picking up objects and other voluntary movements.

Medical authorities are suspecting that he has ‘beriberi’ which leads to leg weakness due to lack of Vitamin B (Thiamine). The prisoner has been suffering for two months of leg weakness now hence, the chief suspect is the prison diet.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of thiamine is 1.2 mg (milligram) per day. Whole grain foods, meats, eggs, milk and milk products have high thiamine content whereas food like tea or coffee especially in the meal hours, alcohol, and betel nut will not let thiamine enter the body, said the health official.

“The concerned prisoner’s body does not absorb thiamine but it is confusing because he does not get to drink alcohol in prison,” he said. However, talking to The Bhutanese, the patient said that the prison diet is “pretty good” with cauliflower, beans, cabbage, brinjal and dal served daily and meat given on a weekly basis.

Captain Ugyen Tshewang said, “Since this problem cropped up, the prisoner are being provided extra food like chana, nutrela and eggs on a daily basis.” Meanwhile, the patient has improved drastically after undergoing treatment. He will also undergo MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) test since he has problems walking. Lungzor jail in Trashigang has 47 prisoners.

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