WINDHOEK – A team of experts consisting of an epidemiologist and a risk communication consultant are currently in the country to assist the Ministry of Health and Social Services through the World Health Organisation (WHO) country office with its response to the hepatitis E epidemic.
Speaking to New Era on Friday, Momodou Gassama, the WHO risk communication consultant from the Gambia said the team is in Namibia to strengthen risk communication, social mobilisation and community engagement, among others.
Gassama said they observed challenges in the two weeks the team has been in the country. The country’s emergency response plan for hepatitis E needs to be strengthened, said Gassama. “With emergencies you need to act fast in order to contain it,” stressed Gassama.
The team has observed the need to strengthen the capacity of doctors and nurses. Coordination also needs to be strengthened, Gassama said.
Gassama feels that dealing with the outbreak of the disease should not be left to the Ministry of Health and Social Services alone, as all ministries can contribute in bringing the disease under control. “Emergencies are not a government show alone. We don’t have to relax,” noted Gassama. He said the communities are not fully doing their part to fight the disease.
There is a need for community leaders to arise from within the affected communities in order to share the message of maintaining cleanliness in order to fight the disease.
“There is a need for human resource capacity to engage communities in their settings. There are not many people on the ground from the community and yet that is the way for this epidemic,” said Gassama.
He further stressed the need to address sanitation, especially in the DRC settlement in Swakopmund. There are mobile toilets but they are not regularly emptied, Gassama said.
He also observed that cultural practices whereby an entire family wash their hands in one basin of water and dry their hands with one towel should be discouraged as germs will continue to spread.
“We need to promote handwashing with soap and running water. This is very important because once that is done transmission will be a thing of the past,” he added.
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services from last week show that there are 3,630 cases of hepatitis E in seven of the country’s 14 region. Windhoek and Swakopmund are hardest hit by the disease.
“The biggest asset I found here is the political commitment from the leadership. A lot of activities went on when hepatitis E was declared an outbreak in December 2017. The government and partners are really committed to this. You need to act fast in emergencies in order to control it,” stressed Gassama.