Namibian medical professionals have often come under fire for incompetence and there has been a lot of scrutiny considering how sensitive and delicate the profession is in terms of service delivery and saving lives.
Journalists write stories, compile footage and sometimes errors are committed, an apology is rendered the following day and all is forgotten the next. In the world of accounting, miscalculations happen, numbers are fixed and errors are rectified and life goes on. But that is not the case with the health profession.
Medical practitioners are seen as miracle workers, saviours, but are less likely to bring back life due to an error and with this complex field, competency has to take precedence in all forms.
Dr Esperance Luvindao, a senior medical doctor from Windhoek has been preaching this and strongly feels dealing with people’s lives is a special case and one can’t protect the feel of those who are deemed incompetent.
“If you are not competent, you are not competent. This is someone’s relative you are dealing with as a doctor and likewise if it was your relative being treated, you would want them to be seen by someone who is competent,” expressed Luvindao.
She said the competence of some medical professionals raises the issue of training, which has been questioned by many.
The medical officer, who was recently elevated to senior doctor, said going through the internship is a daunting process that requires passion and dedication to the profession.
Luvindao, who completed her training in 2018, and did community service until her recent elevation, said they go through various domains now as doctors compared to what they were doing as students.
“We do obstetrics and gynaecology, for example, and go through the rotation for a number of months and after that, you will be assessed and examined by specialists who decide whether one qualifies to be a senior doctor or not,” she said.
Medical students go through all domains including psychiatry, obstetric, paediatric, orthopaedic and anaesthesia.
“It doesn’t matter what you want to specialise in, you now become a medical officer/senior doctor for everything, and only from then on can you choose your speciality because you have passed everything else and you are competent in the domain where you may land,” said Luvindao.
The title of doctor comes with graduation because of the number of years of studying, the practice comes from the third year of medical school already but the strict rule is one is not allowed to work for private or open your own practice until the internship or community service is completed.
Luvindao admitted that although Namibia has the capacity to train medical practitioners, there are various key professions that haven’t seen the light of day.
“Young people need a bit more exposure with the things that are available, people don’t know fields within the field. Within medicine, we are in dire need of gynaecologists because some patients are put on a waiting list for a long period and that’s how fully booked they are, getting back-to-back consultations every day,” shared Luvindao.
She added that the country also needs cardiovascular surgeons and neurosurgeons and sometimes doctors in the public sector are left with no options but to refer patients to private health facilities.
“If you have been involved in a car accident and you have sustained an injury that requires surgery, the Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund pays for that which allows us to send patients to private hospitals,” she said.
Luvindao added: “In patients who have sustained trauma injuries, like head trauma, which was not caused by a car accident, due to the lack of specialists in state hospitals, some can’t afford the private service and are left to go home as nothing can be done to them, which is very sad. We need all the specialists we can get.”
She recounted a grisly story where a taxi driver was driving with his arm outside the door, resulting in an accident where his arm got ripped off.
“The driver’s arm was amputated and the person at the scene brought the arm to the hospital to me but there was nothing we can do because there was no vascular surgeon, these are the people who can connect the vessels. It was a clean wound where we could properly reattach the arm but an actual vascular surgeon is needed to reconnect the vessels,” said Luvindao.