The Katutura Intermediate Hospital in Windhoek, renowned for perceived rude and unprofessional staff, dilapidated infrastructure and worsened by faltering funding, has recently received an unexpected wave of praise from several Covid-19 survivors who recovered at the 48-year-old facility.
In recent months, this landmark of Namibia’s frail healthcare system has become the epicentre for the treatment of a third wave of coronavirus infections that sent a nation reeling but evoked citizens’ instincts for care and cooperation.
One of the survivors and veteran journalist Norah Appolus said she was admitted at the hospital for 21 days after being transferred from Robert Mugabe clinic where she had tested positive for Covid-19.
“I have utmost praise for the medical, nursing and auxiliary staff at the Katutura respiratory isolation centre. As for the facility itself, one could eat off the floors; it was so clean! The equipment was new, the beds comfortable and clean bed-linen available whenever you needed it.
However, all this is nothing compared to the care and professionalism of all the medical staff,” she said.
She added the nursing staff’s compassion and friendliness shone through.
“The cleaning staff would religiously clean the wards two or three times a day – thoroughly. As for the medical care, these guys know what they’re about. If ever you get Covid and need hospitalisation, ask for Katutura!
This praise must also be extended to the Robert Mugabe clinic and the staff there, especially the competent Dr Rodriguez. She and the others saved my life. I thank them,” she said.
Another survivor Josephine Iindongo, who was admitted at the general referral hospital for almost three weeks, said the treatment she encountered during this time was excellent.
Having heard about instances of unprofessionalism of the hospital’s staff, she was grateful for the treatment she received.
“Although the experience is bad, especially when we were put in one open room with people of different ages, some of them lost their lives in our presence. The nursing staff were very respectful, friendly and good,” she remembered, while thanking staff for saving her life.
She recounted she went to the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital and was told there was no space.
With the number of Covid-19 patients needing hospitalisation, elective surgeries were cancelled, while medical oxygen ran out in June.
With the nation gasping for air, government and the private sector scaled up efforts to ensure sufficient medical oxygen to meet the growing demand in local hospitals.
A Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) coalition pledged to supply 21 tons of medical oxygen every week until September.
The coalition also repaired 100 beds discarded in a corner of the hospital yard to be carted away to a rubbish dump.
However, the hospital and the pandemic continue to serve as training ground for an army of locally trained interns who get to learn on their feet in a real and unprecedented crisis.
Towering on the edge of Katutura, Windhoek’s biggest township where black Namibians were dumped by apartheid era authorities, the hospital was built in 1973 as a referral public health facility.
The hospital’s senior medical officer, Dr Nelao Amagulu, explained the new medical graduates are a great help in this time of crisis because they are learning by doing, as the hospital has enough senior doctors and specialists to provide the required supervision.
“The graduates will have enough time to attend to patients because the workload certainly is there for them to learn. Surely, the current medical interns will make the best future medical officers, especially in the handling of future pandemics. It surely has been a baptism of fire for our young doctors. The learning curve has been steep but highly fulfilling,” she said.
She further said patients are received at the emergency unit and are triaged accordingly with respect to disease severity then admitted to the respective appropriate Covid-19 wards (the 74-bed respiratory unit, the 64-bed fourth floor, the 32-bed ward 5A and the 24-bed military hospital – and if need be, the 20-bed outpatient oxygenation waiting area for bed availability).
She said there is another brand new 46-bed second respiratory unit to accommodate more patients.
“In the last week and a half, we have noted a marked decrease in hospital admissions for Covid patients, with wards at almost 50% bed capacity. We certainly, at present, are able to accommodate those who will require care. We implore people not to remain at home when sick but to come to hospital for assessment and management,” said Amagulu.
“We want to appreciate all the wonderful Namibians, businesses and international community that have supported us and collectively held hands with us in the provision of desperately needed oxygen, clinical supplies, equipment, words of encouragement and nutritious meals for our frontline workers. We are indebted and utterly thankful for these acts of generosity that have so refreshed all of us mind, body and soul,” said Amagulu.
She added, the hospital would endeavour to continue giving its all in this pandemic and beyond.
A medical intern at the hospital, Katjiuapeua Murangi, said it was a learning curve.
“There were days I just wanted to skip work because I couldn’t bear to see the misery and deaths in the hospital wards, but deep within, you knew it wasn’t about you or how you felt but about those that needed you. Covid-19 broke me down in such a way that all I could hear, see and feel was the cry of a dying soul – a mother leaving her children behind, a newlywed, a daughter, a father leaving their loved ones without saying goodbye. When you make a deep connection with a patient because you are the only one they can speak to before they die since they are isolated from their families, you have no choice but to be genuine, loving and kind. It cuts you deep because you become vulnerable but do we have a choice, really? That is where we were meant to be and for that very moment and purpose,” she narrated.
‘Resuscitations after resuscitations’
Paulina Nghipetekwa said her journey at the Katutura hospital begun on 1 March 2021. At the time, the widespread pandemic was not as unforgiving as it is presently.
“I was among the primary chosen interns to go the respiratory unit. On the first day, we had seven Covid-19 deaths. We were doing resuscitations after resuscitations. None of them succeeded. It was physically depleting and emotionally devastating,” she narrated.
Nghipekwa added it was overwhelming for all health workers, to be specific, and medical interns, who sleep in the hospital.
“Some of our colleagues got sick as well and we have to work extra time,” she said.
“There was a point where you are just tired, and you think of quitting but then you realise you just started working. Our superiors are very supportive in all kind of ways. If you’re stuck with something, they are there to assist. Though I am not going to lie, there are those who expect you to be independent and should know it all. What I learned is that in this career, you have to be strong, persistent and ambitious to learn new things but above all, I learned to be humble and caring.”
Namibia’s third wave seems to peter out as the number of positive cases drop.
On Tuesday, the country only recorded 329 positive cases, with 372 recoveries. While 37 people died from Covid-19, the country is slowly vaccinating more people.
Now, 45 348 Namibians have received two vaccine doses and 151 241 received at least one dose.