Voluntary total fasting in political prisoners – clinical and biochetnical observations

  • W.J. Kalk
  • M Felix
  • E.R. Snoey
  • Y Veriawa


Thirty-three political prisoners on hunger strike  (voluntary total fast -VTF) for 6 - 24 days were admitted to two hospitals in Johannesburg in 1989. They had been detained without trial for 4 - 32 months. Sound doctor-patient relationships were established by eDlphasis of the principle of full patient participation in clinical decision-making at every level, by rejection of police interference in patient care, and by refusal to discharge subjects back into detention. Depression and abdominal pains were the predominant symptoms. In 6 lean subjects with complete data the expected initial period of rapid weight loss was not observed. Before hospitalisation most subjects became dehydrated from inadequate fluid intake and an apparent absence of thirst. Serum creatinine concentrations were a better indication of dehydration than serum urea levels. Mild hyponatraemia was found in one-third of patients. Refeeding after 6 - 27 days of VTF was initiated with a dilute lactose-free formula diet, and was uncomplicated. Close clinical monitoring of subjects during VTF is essential, and it is recommended that prisoners should be admitted to hospital at 10% of weight loss, if not before. The health care of prisoners can best be provided by professionals independent of the police and prison services.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135