As the health system battles to keep up with the surge of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths, rural residents in the Zambezi region have been cut off from vaccination and testing centres, as these much-needed services are only found in Katima Mulilo.
Residents who raised concern are from Impalila, an island at the far eastern tip of Namibia, bounded on the north by the waters of the Zambezi River and on the south by the Chobe River.
It is home to some 2 500 to 3 000 people, spread over 25 small villages.
Transportation from Impalila to Katima Mulilo has always been an issue for these residents, as they have to cross the Zambezi River to reach basic services.
Echoing their worries, Zambezi governor Lawrence Sampofu yesterday said, “All those (including tourists)
who need testing and vaccines have to travel to Katima Mulilo, which is a district hospital. The rest are health centres and clinics. Sometimes, nurses are dispatched to the lodges, who provide transportation to conduct testing,” Sampofu said.
Sampofu expressed disappointment, as people are not willing to go for vaccinations because of widespread misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media.
“We are trying to encourage people
to have the vaccines but we cannot
force them. Covid-19 is a danger we have to fight head-on and the numbers are increasing every day,” he said.
As of 27 June 2021, the Zambezi region has recorded 1 219 cumulative cases since March 2020.
The region has recorded 24 deaths, while only 2 610 have been vaccinated.
Councillor of Kabbe South, where Impalila is located, John Likando said the mobile testing centres that were identified last month yielded moderate results, given the general resistance from the community.
He blamed social media for the negative impact of false stories.
So far, he said, all borders are open and those vaccinated normally visit Kasane and Kazungula but those not inoculated are reluctant to use the service of the borders.
“At the moment, fishing seems to be the main source of income in the floodplains. Katima Mulilo remains the concentration area of Covid-19 in the region.
“The affected numbers are quite low in the constituency because of no testing centres, meaning people are leaving without knowing their status, and this is dangerous,” Likando said.
He noted after the ministry made a follow up on the issue. It was decided that Impalila, Itomba and Mbalasinte have been identified as clinics to do vaccination and more community mobilisation needs to be undertaken.
“Hence, teachers, learners, tourism staff, traditional leaders (indunas) and informal traders are not vaccinated as yet. My office has been working closely with [the] health directorate to encourage voluntary vaccination. There is a danger that any time, the disease will spread like fire, as people are not adhering to Covid-19 regulations and protocol, particularly [the wearing of masks in] public and sanitising. The number at funerals remains so large, which is a hotspot of the spread at the moment in the area,” Likando maintained.
At the moment, Namibia remains one of the worst-hit African countries, with a high rate of infections daily.
There is currently increasing severe pressure on the health system, characterised by a lack of hospital beds, overwhelmed mortuaries and scarce vaccines. The country has halted vaccinations for those who have
already had the first dose.
Another nerve-wracking issue raised in the Zambezi region is the lack
of an intensive care unit (ICU), which has made it difficult for the biggest hospital in the region to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, which is currently sweeping across the entire country.
The hospital lack beds too, as it only has a 16-bed isolation area, where patients in need of intensive care are currently being admitted.
This was confirmed by Zambezi regional health director Agnes Mwilima last week when she was giving an update on the region’s Covid-19 situation.
The health directorate is in dire need of a fully-fledged ICU to care for critical patients.