Over 150 medical students at the University of Namibia’s School of Medicine have temporarily withdrawn from clinical settings, citing, among others, a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The group also attributed their withdrawal to operational measures that they claim are currently not in place to protect themselves and others from contracting Covid-19.
The withdrawal comes as a result of unaddressed issues such as lack of isolation facilities and proper remedial adjustments for students missing clinical activities due to being quarantined or isolated due to Covid-19.
Student Representative Council (SRC) spokesperson for the Hage Geingob Campus Mario Richard said the halt in clinical activities was to allow preparation and identification of facilities so that when rotations resume and the cases of exposed and or infected increase, they can be handled safely and timeously.
He confirmed that one of their students at the campus has contracted Covid-19.
The students initially submitted a list of complaints to the management this week before resolving to withdraw from clinical settings on Tuesday.
“We are in the health profession and we all took a vow to provide and improve healthcare services to the best of our ability. But in that same sentence, it also means that we should not pose a danger to the health of those around us – whether family, friends, colleagues or patients. We want to go for clinical bedside teaching – we need to – and we only want to do so in a safe manner for all,” Richard said.
The students complained it took weeks before the university could provide them with PPE.
“We were told the delay was due to the fact the provision of such was supposed to come from the ministry (of health) and since it was struggling, the university stepped in to assist and the processes take time. We have received the PPE. As of last week, we have been distributing it to the students,” Richard added.
Another matter of grave concern, students claimed, some of them who were exposed to confirmed cases of Covid-19 or infected were told to sometimes wait for 24 hours at the hostel for the health ministry to secure space for isolation.
Richard feels this puts the other students sharing the residential block at risk.
The same applies to students who stay at home and live in private residences with family or friends.
He said when or if they are exposed to infected persons, they put their households at higher risk when they wait longer at home.
According to him, some of these students reside with people with comorbidities.
“With an expected increase in student exposure or infection rate if clinical rotations continue, without rapid isolation, the spread would be higher. It is why we have requested the university to identify isolation or quarantine facilities where these students can be kept in such a situation while they are waiting either for results or to be isolated by the ministry,” Richard maintained.
Another concern they raised is that a rotation in each department normally lasts five weeks but given the change in calendar, it was reduced to four weeks.
Richard said they have had students who were exposed and had to go in quarantine, adding these students missed two of four weeks of clinical lessons and academic activities.
Despite this loss, he said, they were still expected to do assessments and adhere to due dates like all the other students.
They demanded management respond in writing and action, assuring students that when they return to the clinical sphere, reasonable adjustments will be made to cater to them and make up for the days missed.
Approached for comment, Unam spokesperson Simon Namesho said provision of materials in the clinical setting is captured under the current memorandum of understanding between the university and health ministry.
He said it would ordinarily be the responsibility of the ministry to cater to students.
“However, in extraordinary times of Covid-19 and appreciating the massive challenges within the ministry of health in responding, limited PPE (masks or face shield and hand sanitiser) were bought and distributed to health students and staff last week,” he said.