black death madagascar
ICRC said it is providing support to the Malagasy authorities to eliminate rats that infest its overcrowded detention facilities (ICRC) ICRC

The International Red Cross (ICRC) has launched a joint operation with Madagascar's prison authorities to tackle an epidemic of bubonic plague.

ICRC said it is providing support to the Malagasy authorities to eliminate rats that infest detention facilities on the African island spreading the disease known as 'black death'.

"Although the plague has been eradicated from most countries of the world, it is still rife in Madagascar," ICRC said.

The campaign against rodents is helped by the Pasteur Institute and will focus on Antananarivo' s Antanimora Prison, where 3,000 inmates are held.

"The chronic overcrowding and the unhygienic conditions in prisons can bring on new cases of the disease," said Christoph Vogt, head of the ICRC delegation in Madagascar. "That's dangerous not only for the inmates but also for the population in general."

"Rat control is essential for preventing the plague, because rodents spread the bacillus to fleas that can then infect humans," said Mr Vogt. "So the relatives of a detainee can pick up the disease on a visit to the prison. And a released detainee returning to his community without having been treated can also spread the disease."

As part of the campaign inmates' cells are to be disinfected and sprayed with insecticide. The ICRC is also to distribute hygiene products and mouse traps.

An average of 500 cases of bubonic plague a year has been recorded on the Island since 2009.

In 2012 Madagascar gained the unwanted crown of worst affected country in the world with 256 cases and 60 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization.

The Black Death when killed some 25 million people in Europe in the Middle Ages.

In the last two decades besides Madagascar, outbreaks have been recorded only in a handful of countries including India, Indonesia, Algeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

bubonic plague madagascar
A rat is seen in a Malagasy prison (ICRC)