• July 16th, 2020

Opinion - Coronavirus: Are Namibians ready?

The spectre of Covid-19 has befallen the world, creating a wave of global shock with reported cases mounting to approximately over 200 000 worldwide, claiming over 8 000 lives (World Health Organisation, 2020). Furthermore, according to the WHO approximately 151 countries have reported cases of Covid-19 of which 30 are from the African continent. Unfortunately Namibia is no exception, as President Dr Hage Geingob on 14 March 2020 announced the two confirmed cases of Covid-19.  The virus is spreading like wildfire and consequently its dangerous nature presents a threat to humanity. 

The virus’s non-discriminatory nature to race, class, gender or borders exposes all individuals to the risk, but with a feeble public health sector that is overwhelmed by already existing disease outbreaks, it is more likely to affect the poor. The reality of those confronted to abject poverty may make it difficult to attain the precautionary measures prescribed by the WHO, such as washing of hands, sanitizing, self-isolation etc.

Furthermore, it is not a secret that our public health systems prior to the spread of Covid-19 were weak; as reported by the Namibian former President Pohamba it legitimises this statement in 2012 by articulating that the deaths total is inconsistent to our small population and that it could be prevented (Kisting, 2012). These reflections of the former president expose the ineffectiveness of the public health systems in the past, which is still a reality today. Research indicates that the doctor-patient ratio is one doctor to every 5 000 patients in Namibia which is below 50%, which ratio leaves important settlements denied access to certain healthcare (Howard, 2018). Moreover, there is a lack of accessibility to healthcare in rural areas – for instance !Gai//naxas is a settlement in the Berseba constituency in //Kharas region that has approximately 1 000 inhabitants. However, the nearest clinic from it is in Berseba, 30km away, which refers patients to the Keetmanshoop hospital another 80km away. If Covid-19 is to spread in such a remote area it would be uncontainable when it reaches the Keetmanshoop hospital. Therefore, we recommend that tests be made free, and efforts be made to distribute them to remote areas, and simultaneously in urban areas infrastructure such as Ramatex be converted into temporary medical facilities.

Although preventative measures have been taken Namibia’s response to Covid-19 is sluggish and must pick up pace, for when global statistics fall it may be catastrophic for Africa. Furthermore, misleading comparisons of Covid-19 to HIV by the executive director of MITC Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana, indicate a lack of awareness about the intensity of the virus. Hence, this calls for urgent mass awareness campaigns from the Ministry of Health and Social Services combined with civil society organisations, ensuring that citizens are well- informed on the necessary preventative measures to protect themselves. Hygiene and self-isolation have been emphasised as one of the core preventative measures by WHO, but this becomes immensely concerning in areas within the informal settlements. The Shacks Dwellers Federation (2018) reported statistics of 308 informal settlements in Namibia with a staggering 228 000 shacks accommodating about 995 000 people in urban areas. Communal showers and toilets are common in informal settlements, thus defeating the purpose of self-isolation as residents are faced daily with impoverished conditions. Furthermore, informal settlements generally lack access to water and sanitation, which consequently hampers the ability of citizens to ensure that their environments are safe, clean and conducive as recommended by the WHO.

 As a nation in 2017 we witnessed the outbreak of hepatitis E, with the majority of cases reported in the informal settlements where sanitation, water and hygiene are limited. It is these reflections that send chills of concern about what the impact may be of Covid-19 in the informal settlements. The outbreak of Covid-19 serves as a wake-up call to government to formulate a public policy that will attend to strengthening our public health sector to be on par with global standards. In a world where global warming is resulting in bacterial survival, that may birth the spread of numerous other epidemics in the future, so it is best to be prepared.

Staff Reporter
2020-03-20 09:36:21 | 3 months ago

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