Several expectant mothers, sheltered at the Onandjokwe hospital, have complained about being forced to weed grass and cleaning the surroundings in instances where they cannot pay the required fee.
The shelter houses expectant mothers, who are due to deliver, from faraway places.
According to the health directorate, the fee that is being charged is for the upkeep of the facility. Meanwhile, the expectant mothers say they are often woken up as early as 03h00 to weed out grass and clean the surrounding areas of the hospital.
This practice is for those who
are unable to pay the N$2 or N$8 daily fee. “We are not told of some of these things. We came to the shelter to be close to the health service because we are from far villages.
How can they compel others to clear out grass, yet they have cleaners, employed to do that job? We are pregnant and it is a risk for us to do such hard work in the early morning hours, as it is even cold and we risk being bitten by snakes,” said an expectant mother, who opted to remain anonymous in fear of victimisation.
She has been residing at the facility for more than two weeks.
“Not all of us are privileged to afford that N$2 or the N$8 they ask for the upkeep of the kitchen. It is better we are informed upon entering so that one can decide to stay or not. The ablution facilities are also not working properly; we have to use a bucket when flushing the toilet,” she added.
Another expectant woman said, “I came from home because I couldn’t afford to be doing hard labour. The work we do here is difficult in our condition. We can easily get sick from the dust inhaled and the cold as well.”
Several health officials defended the practice, saying it is normal to charge a fee, as nothing is for free, considering that the expectant women are using services such as water and electricity.
To some, the activities being assigned to the expectant mothers were seen as an exercise to keep them fit as the birthing time draws closer.
There are designated personnel who are responsible to assign and collect fees at the shelter.
“We had a similar concern in the past, so I don’t know why this is still an issue. Back then, we had suspended this generous gesture of sheltering inside, and it turned out to be ugly, as mothers had to squat outside hospital then later in the hospital, which became a health hazard. Therefore, hearing such concerns now, I am really surprised, as we are doing all mothers a favour out of goodwill – and this is the best shelter among all others in the country,” said nurse manager John Lumbu.
In addition, Lumbu said the concerns of a few greedy individuals who only want to be free riders will not overrule the greater benefit of the entire society.
“Back in the years, the decision to charge and have those who canot afford do other activities to make-up for their unaffordability was solely taken by the mothers,” said the manager, further emphasising that the shelter has documented rules by which everyone must abide.
The practice of waiting shelters are a common practice at some hospitals in northern Namibia and some are in a deplorable, unhygienic state – while in some places, it is so severe that many reside in tents and cardboard boxes outside hospitals as they wait to give birth.