File picture: Independent Media

CAPE TOWN - The death of inmates at Makala Prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were caused by a lack of food,  medicine, and poor hygiene, state officials have said.

17 prisoners died over the past week.

The country's biggest correctional facility had not received food supplies for the past two months.

According to a prison official, food shortages meant the more than 8,000 inmates relied on their families for meals. 

The facility is also severely overcrowded, housing fives times more prisoners than it can accommodate. 

Conditions are so poor that non-governmental groups estimate at least 100 prisoners are gravely ill and close to death. 

The DRC's deputy minister of justice told local media that Makala had now received some funding to help improve conditions.

"It's true, there was a delay in paying suppliers and this explains the break in supplies," Celestin Tunda Ya Kasende told AFP.

Last year, DRC's Mbanza Ngungu prison saw 40 inmates die in 18 months. Officials blamed the prison’s poor conditions, while human rights activists said the deaths were caused by  starvation.

African News Agency