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Hepatitis E outbreak exposes health’s emergency unpreparedness

2019-02-19  Alvine Kapitako

Hepatitis E outbreak exposes health’s emergency unpreparedness

WINDHOEK - The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, says hepatitis E, which was declared an outbreak in December 2017, has exposed the ministry’s unpreparedness to deal with emergencies. 

“This has resulted in our inability to establish the index case. As such, we are unable to establish whether the hepatitis E virus is endogenous (having an internal cause or origin) or exogenous (having an external cause or origin) because our systems are not responsive and sensitive enough to answer that question,” said Shangula. 
Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services show that as of 27 January 2019, a total 4 432 hepatitis E cases had been reported in Namibia. 

So far, 40 deaths have been reported and the death toll is disproportionately highest among pregnant women and those who have given birth, constituting 17 cases, which translates to 42.5 percent of deaths. 
Shangula said he has had a chance to interact with teams that are charged with the hepatitis E outbreak control at national and regional levels. 

“Though we note progress made, the fact that the outbreak is persisting and has the potential to become endemic in Namibia is a wake-up call to action. The latent apathy that permeates through the public towards the disease is frightening phenomenon,” said Shangula. 

He said a rapid assessment that was conducted late last year revealed certain gaps and weaknesses in the current control environment. 

Shangula’s remarks are contrary to the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ previous response where they said in September last year that after the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Namibia developed an Ebola Virus Disease preparedness and response plan in 2015.  

The recurrent Congo fever outbreaks in the country “have tried and tested the robustness of public health system and this has tremendously improved out capacity to respond to future public health emergencies of such nature”, Dr Lilliane Kahuika, epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health and Social Services told New Era last year. 

2019-02-19  Alvine Kapitako

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