Senior information officer at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology Paulina Moses (PM) recently sat down with the Frans Enkali (FE), the chief regional officer of Oshikoto on prevention measures put in place by the authorities to fight Covid-19.
PM: What is the status of isolation and/or quarantine facilities in the region?
FE: We have quite a number of people in quarantine facilities pending their results of testing. The situation in Oshikoto remains stable – so far we are not that stretched as quarantine facilities have been able to keep those sent to the facilities until released. So far we have been doing well because there are no complaints about overcrowding.
PM: There have been complaints that patients in quarantine facilities do not have enough food to eat and about unhygienic conditions, is this the case in Oshikoto too?
FE: We didn’t experience that, unless it was not brought to our action. The regional council’s role didn’t change even during the pandemic. Activities at the quarantine facilities involve law enforcement and officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Services who have a direct role to play during that period. If it does happen and it is brought to our attention, the regional council will not hesitate, we are is ready to assist. No one knew that there would be Covid-19 starting January or February this year. Thus there was no budget provision for Covid-19 related activities but in our current budget the Oshikoto Regional Council set aside a budget of N$600 000 which we have already started to utilise to cater for needs related to Covid-19. If a report of such nature comes, the regional council will be ready to move in and assist, to ensure no one is hungry during quarantine.
PM: In severe cases, hospitalised patients are placed on ventilators as we have witnessed with case 22 from Walvis Bay. Ventilators have become a medical necessity during this pandemic. Do we have ventilators in our health facilities?
FE: We may have ventilators but limited. No one was prepared for Covid-19. We also heard of the number of beds with ventilators in the whole country which was scary. When it comes to ventilators, Oshikoto as a region will not be top of the range that we can provide everything. Even countries claiming to be the first class world countries are also suffering because of this. They have been running out of ventilators. They are also struggling. That will be a challenge and if it happens the central government is there to provide. There is a strong coordination between the regional directorate of health and the Ministry of Health and Social Services under which they work.
PM: What has Oshikoto region observed or learnt from Erongo in terms of the spread of the virus, containment measures and how does this observation strengthen the region’s preparedness?
FE: Our region’s preparedness to curve Covid-19 is just the same preparedness across the country. What we can learn from Walvis Bay that has become an epicentre for Covid-19 is that we all have to adhere to the regulations pertaining to Covid-19. Those drills that we are hearing on a daily basis are now a common practice. People in Oshikoto should maintain social distancing, maintain hygiene by washing hands and people should not feel forced to wear a mask when entering public spaces, because the main emphasis is not to wear the mask while in your room but when entering public spaces, you have to wear a mask. With tracing, we have seen in Oshikoto that before you enter a shop you enter your name. Now people are complaining, ‘why do I have to register my name, it is becoming too much, when I go in the shop I have to write my name, when I go to regional council I again have to register’. That is only to make it possible for tracing. If it happens that a case is detected that tracing will culminate in identifying who are the possible people who were there at the time this person was in that area. It is not just about registering but it is to help the nation to be attended to when incidences of this nature happen. But we hope this does not happen in our region.
PM: There has been talk of travellers, from either Angola or Walvis Bay who have travelled to Oshikoto and did not report to quarantine facilities and instead travelled to their homes etc. How has the region handled these cases?
FE: The main issue here lies with members of our community. When people travel in this way, these are members of our families. I do not want to be misunderstood that people should stigmatise people from Erongo region or elsewhere in SADC. Family members are first point of entry and when a member of the family comes, let’s be aware that it is for our protection. Let us tell the person to go to a facility to be checked and declared not being Covid-19 positive. It is not a punishment, but the question is should you be infected would you want to infect other people? You will not be arrested, you will just be put in a relevant facility that can test you. And if positive, get medication and be released. People should also report themselves.
PM: The stigma around truck drivers who are at risk of contracting Covid-19 has been a controversial topic during this pandemic. Oshikoto region via Oshivelo serves as the entry point to northern Namibia and this has caused unrest amongst the inhabitants. Should they be concerned?
FE: Trucks are tracked. Not all truck drivers are Covid-19 positive. The authorities have been advocating against stigmatising truck drivers. Truck drivers since lockdown have been considered to be delivering essential services. Just after lockdown, stock was running out. We get most of our food stock from South Africa, if there are no truck drivers, the stock will be depleted in the shops, especially in urban areas that depend on the availability of food in retail markets. Without truck drivers there will be hunger. Let’s see drivers as critical partners who make sure that we do not run out of food and other stock like sanitisers and masks and other items crucial for surviving Covid-19. We cannot be happy to survive because we are satisfied that we have what we need and then laugh at truck drivers who are doing it for us.
PM: How would you grade the region’s performance so far? Whether in terms of the lockdown, PPE or social distancing.
FE: There is a taskforce in the region made up of all relevant authorities who have a role to play in the fight against Covid-19. Law enforcement has been participating, they are a sacrificial lamb in the region. It is the police who have to go and put order even during the pandemic. It is the police officers who have to bring order at weddings or funerals. As you know in this part of the country, people don’t need an invitation to a wedding, they just show up. But law enforcement has been doing their job without us receiving complaints about their behaviour or the manner in which they conduct their work.
The education directorate has procured a number of materials for the schools. Oshikoto is 13% urban and 87% are rural. These rural areas are where challenges are. We have drilled boreholes because hygiene comes with availability of water but these boreholes are not yet sufficient. At school level we have ablution facilities under construction, and all this is happening in a short period of time. Government has made an effort to make sure they have put resources to the disposal of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture to make sure we fight Covid-19 and this is something to be proud of.
The health directorate is always busy even though they are stretched. The have few officials in terms of nurses and doctors but they are very busy. The director is always making sure he visits the various checkpoints. There is a commitment and everyone is committed.
PM: How has the virus affected the economic activities of the region and how did the council minimise this challenge?
FE: For small traders, during phase one of lockdown, there was no income for those selling kapana. When lockdown was implemented some of their products got rotten because they could not sell. To replenish that stock after lockdown was difficult. Even those with gardens had to sit with their produce and had nowhere to sell them. In terms of economic activities, it is complicated, because Oshikoto Regional Council is not in a position to alleviate the challenges caused by Covid-19. They received N$750 just to buy food items. It may seem little by looking just at N$750 but if you multiply it by the number of people, it would run into millions, money that the government also didn’t have and had to source.