Staff members of public hospitals are examining 2,000 inmates at Maha Sarakham Prison after nine were found to have tuberculosis in 2016 and another eight in 2017.
Prison director Wanpen Wongwaikittisin said on Wednesday the inmates were being screened for TB, leprosy, Aids and sexually transmitted diseases.
Public Health Region 7 inspector-general Dr Narong Saiwong, who was in charge of programme launch, said inmates were at risk because of the crowded conditions behind bars. Every year, screenings uncover fresh cases of TB, he said.
In 2017, 1,705 inmates in prisons nationwide were diagnosed with TB, a major health problem that leads to thousands of deaths in Thailand annually, Narong said.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation placed Thailand among 14 countries with the highest prevalence of TB, including drug-resistant TB.
Narong said that, among a population of 69 million, Thailand sees about 120,000 fresh TB cases each year, which is 1.3 times above the global average.
Of these, about 12,000 patients died.
Narong ascribed the high prevalence to limited access to treatment or late treatment. In either case, TB can spread through communities.
The Public Health Ministry aims to reduce the number of cases to 88 per 100,000 population by 2021 and extend treatment coverage to 90 per cent of patients, he said.
Public Health Region 7, covering Maha Sarakham, Roi Et, Khon Kaen and Kalasin, has six prisons where TB screenings took place in 2017.
Of the 11,118 inmates screened, 65 were diagnosed with TB. Voluntary HIV/Aids blood testing was done on 1,537 inmates and 30 were HIV-positive and given antiviral medicines.
No one at the six prisons had leprosy, 400 had fungus infections, 390 had rashes and 350 had scabies.