Belgium: Halal training for prison guards, doctors

Belgium: Halal training for prison guards, doctors


According to our sources, the Federal Public Service (SPF) of Justice will soon launch a pilot project to train personnel in prisons about the problematics of halal. Apparently, though it is difficult to obtain exact figures on the percentage of Muslims in Belgian prisons. observers agree that there are many religious Muslims there. And it also frequently happens that inmates convert to Islam in prison. Prison guards, nurses and doctors are often confronted with requests or conduct by prisoners which they are not trained to handle. "It is true that there is a pilot project on the problematics of halal, but it's briefings," confirms an official of the SPF Justice.

It happened that inmates refused medication because it contained animal fat (pork jelly in some suppositories) or because it wasn't halal. Or worse yet, they take the medicine prescribed by the doctor, but refuses care. Another problematic situation concerns the case where prisoners are treated, for example, with methadone, and refuse care because it's during Ramadan.

The SPF Justice turned to two specialists in the field to lead the training session: Belgian Bruno Bernard and French Florence Bergeaud-Blackler. Together they published an interesting practical guide (“Comprendre le halal”, understanding halal) on the problematics of halal, a modern business with financial implications and different certifications.

An expert in foreign trade, Bruno Bernard advises the Chamber of Commerce of Brussels on all matters relating to European halal certifications. A Phd in sociology,Florence Bergeaud-Blackler is an associate researcher at the institute for the study and research of the Arab and Muslim world (CNRS) in France.

The sessions will start in October. They will initially be organized for health-care workers, mostly doctors, nurses and psychotherapists, and later it would be extended to prison guards and cooks. It appears that there's a lot of interest in the first session among prison personnel who want more information about the problematics of Islam, as a specific number of participants are needed in order to organize the sessions and apparently the quotas have been met.

Participation in the sessions is voluntary. "Our mission isn't to provide all the answers to the participants in these sessions, but to give them the basics that will allow them to avoid conflicts and move towards solutions. It will also help them to respond satisfactorily to the statements fo certain inmates on things which are completely wrong or false," Bruno Bernard told us when we contacted him.

Based on her experience in France, Florence Bergeaud-Blackler says that prison officers feel "alone and bad when dealing with statements using Islamic references that escape them."

Initially, the nursing staff of two Francophone prisons, notably the prisons of Andenne and Ittre, will participate in the training sessions. A similar initiative will target prisons in northern Belgium, with a Flemish specialist. Steps are underway to appoint one.

France is closely following the Belgian approach, as initial contacts were made with the French authorities for similar training sessions to be organized there.


Prisons are not the only ones facing problems with halal and Ramadan. Hospitals in Belgium are also dealing with these issues. "The religious commandments are followed widely also in hospitals. Some patients, notably the older ones, completely reject the idea of not observing Ramadan. They say they're about to die and they fear going back to their God without observing the fast. Means with pork are routinely rejected. Menus with meat are generally refused. Menus suspected of containing meat or alcohol products are avoided. The possibility of the presence of prohibited animals parts (pork gelatin or insulin) sometimes causes leads certain patients not to take their medication if they are not sure the products are allowed.," says Florence Bergeaud-Blackler.

She says that this situation affects the health of the patients with elderly patients, nursing mothers and people with chronic illness (diabetes, hypertension, asthma, epilepsy etc.). "Accidents are not rare. A Parisian doctor of diabetes noted decompensated diabetes 2-3 times more frequently,leading to emergency hospitalization, in this period."

She says that fasting or refusing non-halal food, can lead to malnutrition among vulnerable people. And according to the results of a study in the British Journal of Nutrition, a malnourished patient is five times more likely to get iatrogenic infection. "Malnourished patients are at increased risk of getting anemia, asthenia (loss of strength), wasted muscles, impaired immune system which increases the risk of infections. They more serious risks are blood [ed: should be lung?] infections like pneumonia and blood poisoning which can lead to large number of premature deaths," says Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, recalling a Belgian study on the economic costs incurred by malnourished patients.

"The direct costs of undernourishment in institutionalized health care comes mainly from extended stays due to weakness of the patients, their poorer ability to recover, or the need for additional care resulting from diseases contracted during the hospital stay (e.g. iatrogenic infections). A reporty by the Belgian Society for Clinical Nutrition estimated that 400 million euros a year, that is to say 7% of the annual hospital costs, are additinal direct costs of malnutritiion." This doesn't count the direct costs of the stay itself, and addtionally there are indirect costs incurred by the patient's family (travel, home nursing, lower income), but also by the community (absentieeism, replacing workers and thus lower productivity).

According to our sources, the university hospital in Liège ordered a copy of the book 'Understanding Halal'. "We do not buy halal products, but we must say that we've never been asked for halal food. However, our Muslim patients have a pork-free diet," says Jean Codognotto, purchasing manager of the hospital. The Citadelle Hospital in the Liège region also say their patients have personalized dishes and the meal preparation is supervised by the dietetic service.

Source: La Libre Belgique 1, 2 (French)