We welcome the announcement by health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula that government has finally scaled up efforts to ensure there is sufficient medical oxygen in order to meet the growing demand in local hospitals, which have been choking, as new Covid-19 infections continue to rise sharply across the country.
There is no doubt that the severe shortage of life-saving oxygen has had an impact on the country’s health system over the past three weeks or so as the nation grapples with a deadly third wave of the pandemic, which has seen a record number of deaths being announced by the authorities.
The situation on the ground remains critical as not all sick patients who require hospitalisation are able to secure the much-needed beds. In addition, some Covid-19 patients are now deteriorating so quickly that they die before they can seek medical attention. Medical oxygen remains a vital part of treatment for the coronavirus, but limited supplies over the past couple of weeks have left patients gasping for air, compounded by an overwhelmed health system. We have seen a high number of ill patients succumbing to this virus at home, which is quite sad. We have also seen how desperate families are scrambling to find medical oxygen for their loved ones, including on the black market, where it has seemingly presented a business opportunity.
Despite these challenges, Shangula promised this week there would be a constant supply of oxygen to aid local hospitals.
“For the coming days, the issue of the oxygen problem will not be there anymore because these trucks will be delivering on a weekly basis. Let us not always work towards solving a problem in the hospital. Let us work on solving the problem before it reaches the hospital. It is difficult to deal with, and very expensive,” he was quoted as telling journalists at the Katutura state hospital. The minister is perfectly right that we should never allow a situation to spiral out of control before we act. Obviously, as cases rise and deaths occur, the government has become an easy scapegoat as the custodian of public health. At the same time, we have also seen fingers pointing to “reckless youth” for not following the rules of social distancing and mask wearing, among others. The pandemic has now worsened to alarming levels, and playing the Covid-19 blame game will not be sustainable in the long run. It is counterproductive, given the critical stage of what is confronting us now.
Therefore, we also call upon the authorities to receive constructive feedback well as the situation unfolds. The pandemic has exposed long-standing gaps in public health, and it is time for lasting reforms, including tackling bureaucratic hurdles, which appear to have delayed the delivery of critical supplies such as medical oxygen.
Also, for our country to have a smooth supply of oxygen and other critical medical resources, government should perhaps consider cutting out the middleman. We can ill- afford to gamble with the health and lives of many Namibians in the midst of the worst global pandemic. Let us fix this mess.