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Govt traverses unprecedented Covid obstacle course

2021-08-11  Loide Jason

Govt traverses unprecedented Covid obstacle course
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Following the Covid-19 outbreak in Namibia, the government set up elaborate measures and infrastructure to successfully curb the Covid-19 pandemic and be prepared for similar onslaughts in future.

Namibia is already struggling with dilapidated and underfunded public health infrastructure and large size of the population is unable to access private health care exacerbated by deep poverty. Government estimates that around 360 000 Namibians faced severe acute food insecurity between April and September 2020.

 Namibia’s private health services serve 18% of the population who have medical aid and public health services cater for the remaining 82%. 

This, in part, is due to the country’s high-income inequality, according to

But Namibia has made great strides in the fight against HIV and AIDS and thanks to the University of Namibia’s (Unam) medical school that has started to produce its own medical professionals. The Ministry of Health and Social Services indicates that HIV and AIDS in Namibia caused 10 200 deaths in 2003 compared to about 3 000 deaths in 2020.

According to the health ministry’s executive director Ben Nangombe, the country has gone into robust national response and preparedness measures after recording its Covid-19 index case on 13 March 2020. 

“President Hage Geingob declared a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic from 17 March to 17 September 2020. The country adopted approaches based on international models, including the incident management system and health measures to control community transmission and to suppress the further spread of infection from areas that were considered epicentres to the rest of the country,” he explained.

Nangombe said an incident manager for Covid-19 was appointed, the system was activated and became operational, a toll-free number was opened to the public, Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) was capacitated to conduct the tests, screening was strengthened at the airport and other borders and a military field hospital was set up at the Hosea Kutako International Airport.

“The government responded by increasing bed capacity throughout the country. The former building of the NIP at Katutura Intermediate Hospital was repurposed and converted into a 46-bed ward for Covid-19 patients. This is in addition to the 74-bed Old TB Ward, the conversion of the 4A into a 64-bed ward and the repurposing of 5A into a 34-bed facility all at Katutura Intermediate Hospital. Work has started for the construction of a 98-bed ward at Katutura hospital. The expansion of hospital beds, oxygen supply and mortuary space has been and is taking place at all hospitals around the country,” he emphasised.


Hospital beds 

According to Nangombe, the increase in the number of new infections resulted in an increase in the number of patients who need hospitalisation. 

“This means that more beds were required. The ministry responded by providing additional beds at existing hospitals,” he said and added a 72-bed field hospital was donated by Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) at the Katutura hospital. The total number of beds mentioned excludes the number of beds in private hospitals and community care facilities.


Oxygen upgrades

Deliberate steps have also been taken to improve the supply and availability of life-saving oxygen to health facilities. There are three ways in which oxygen is supplied to health facilities, namely freestanding oxygen/gas generating systems, installed at all district and referral hospitals, bulk oxygen tanks and re-fillable portable oxygen cylinders. 

A 20-ton bulk oxygen tank was installed to provide oxygen to the 74-bed respiratory unit at Katutura hospital, where Covid-19 patients are admitted. Oxygen is being filled every week, courtesy of the

The existing bulk oxygen tanks at Tsumeb and Walvis Bay state hospitals, with the capacity of 6.5 tons each, will also be filled as required. 

Afrox is installing a 13-ton bulk oxygen tank at Oshakati state hospital. In addition, a new gas-generating unit with a capacity of producing 370 litres of oxygen per minute was installed at the Windhoek Central Hospital, and this is supplying the dedicated 15-bed Covid-19 ICU and high care unit. 

A similar unit was installed at Walvis Bay state hospital with the support of the private sector last year. 

In addition, 300 portable oxygen cylinders were delivered in Windhoek. 

They are being filled at Afrox. Some have already been distributed to health facilities across the country, especially to facilities in remote areas. 

Oxygen supply to the hospital has been addressed to a large extent. The oxygen is being procured from South Africa and brought into Namibia by trucks.

2021-08-11  Loide Jason

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