A decision by several countries to institute bans on the exports of crucial medical supplies will have a devastating effect on Namibia and other African countries that still do not have adequate healthcare infrastructures to confront the Covid-19 pandemic. Namibia’s neighbour, South Africa, has banned exports of facemasks and alcohol-based hand sanitisers, while it has also banned the foreign sale of hydroxychloroquine, a drug now widely believed by countries such as the United States to have the potential to treat Covid-19. The country also requires a special export permit for anyone who wants to sell the banned products abroad. The Indian government last month also declared facemasks and hand sanitisers as essential commodities for a period of 100 days, thus banning any foreign sale. The Indian authorities also extended the ban on ventilators and artificial respiratory apparatus, oxygen therapy apparatus and other breathing appliances critical in the fight against Covid-19. Most recently, the European Union (EU) also announced export restrictions on hospital supplies, including medical safety gear, to outside member states. Agriculture, water and land reform minister Calle Schlettwein yesterday openly criticised the banning of essential medical supplies, saying such moves lack human compassion and solidarity.
“The decisions by the EU, India and others, and now South Africa to ban exports of essential medicines (to fight Covid-19) is very worrying. Such an approach completely lacks human compassions, solidarity and a sense that the whole world is fighting a global pandemic,” Schlettwein tweeted. Dr Bernhard Haufiku who is leading Namibia’s Covid-19 response said he has advised health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula to address the issue with his South African counterpart. “My advice to the government through the ministry of health is for Dr Shangula to make contact with his counterpart in South Africa Dr Zweli Mkhize for Namibia to be regarded as a special export market. This means Namibia should be then exempted from the export ban in South Africa,” he said yesterday. Health executive director Ben Nangombe said the country would definitely be affected but was quick to point out that optional markets are being developed locally to supply facemasks and hand sanitisers. “Well, it will affect us but we have developed our own market to manufacture alcohol-based hand sanitisers and facemasks,” he said. South Africa is the hardest hit in sub-Saharan Africa with over 1 650 confirmed cases, while 11 people have died from Covid-19. Europe is now the mostly affected continent with countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the UK overwhelmed by the virus outbreak. As at yesterday afternoon, India had over 4 300 confirmed cases, with 118 coronavirus-related deaths.