There is a lot to celebrate in the health sector – Kamwi

Windhoek- The Namibian government has overcome numerous challenges in the provision of health care, particularly primary health care to its citizens, putting a smile on the majority of Namibians. Namibia inherited a segregated health sector in 1990 when the country attained independence but there have been many accomplishments which Namibia can celebrate as it turns 20 years. Namibia’s Minister of Health and Social Services Dr. Richard Kamwi told The Southern Times that challenges that the health sector has been faced with are amongst others the shortage of skills, lack of access to health facilities particularly amongst rural dwellers, HIV/AIDS infection and recently polio and the outbreak of H1N1, known as bird flu. The country is still battling to contain drug resistant and extreme drug resistant TB, X-DR TB. Kamwi said when the country attained independence in 1990 there were only a few hospitals in Namibia, few health facilities, clinics, health centers and health facilities. The hospitals that existed at the time were small and had no wards separating adults from children or men from women, Kamwi said. Post-independence Namibia now has 34 district hospitals of which three are intermediate hospitals situated in Windhoek, Oshakati and Rundu in addition to several health centers and clinics. “In 1990 we had a few hospitals, few clinics and health centers were non existent. Where we had hospitals, they were small, some with 20 wards mixed males and females and children,” Kamwi said. Strides have been made in training Namibian health personnel and most hospitals and clinics are now manned with black Namibians. The ministry of health has also undertaken to renovate and upgrade all major hospitals countrywide. The government is currently building a state-of-the-art TB ward at Oshakati which is costing more than N$800 million and funded by the government. The TB ward at Oshakati hospital is now 75 percent complete. Namibia is the fourth country in Africa that has opened a cardiac unit and is currently in the process of employing cardio specialists. Kamwi noted that at independence the country inherited a segregated health system based on race but the situation has been revamped to allow Namibians of any colour or race to be attended at any hospital of their choice. “In 1990 we inherited a segregated health system based on colour, there were hospitals for blacks and whites, Central Hospital was for white people and Katutura Hospital was for the mbwaes (a common word amongst Herero- speaking people),” Kamwi said. The country practises primary health care approach policy whereby enrollment of the community is accommodated so as to educate them, unlike in the past where health care was about treating and curing. The ultimate goal of primary health care is better health for all. As a means to address the challenge of a shortage of nurses and doctors, ministry of health has expanded an intake of registered nurses, thus opened the Northern campus. Government introduced the pre – medicine program for medicine students who further study in South Africa at institutions such as Stellenbosch University and so far 129 Namibian medical doctors, including specialists and general practitioners and 32 pharmacists have graduated from South Africa. Government has also managed to train 1590 registered nurses and boasts of 139 locally trained social workers. Windhoek’s Central Hospital for instance now has four neurologists and one staff member who studied nuclear medicine which deals with cancer and cancer related diseases. “We have successfully managed to put measles, cholera and meningitis outbreaks behind us as Namibians and did not need to use any international assistance” a beaming Kamwi told The Southern Times. The hallmark of government’s achievements in the health sector is the opening of the cardiac unit at Windhoek’s Central Hospital and the recent launch of University of Namibia’s (UNAM) school of medicine with a number of 57 students. This means that Namibia, which did not train its own doctors, will have the first rained Namibian doctors in 2017. “For a small country such as Namibia with such a small population, the medical school is a milestone,” Kamwi said. Kamwi said infant, child and maternal mortality still remain a challenge and the ministry is intensifying training of nurses and increasing the number of birth attendants and obstetric related equipment to ensure that no deaths when giving birth. In addition government has decided to intensify routine immunization programmes. Prevalence still remains one of the biggest challenges government still has to deal with. HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was the highest in 2002 at 22 percent but has since dropped to 17.8 percent in 2008. “HIV/AIDS is still a challenge and we don’t want to see new infections. TB, especially drug resistant TB remains an ongoing challenge and we would want to see staff that is pro-patient, we want nurses who take this profession as a calling and have love for patients.” Some success has been scored in mother to child transmission at birth and Kamwi said that 97 percent of babies born to HIV positive mothers are negative. On the way forward, Namibian health sector is hard at work to improve the county’s general health status through upgrading health facilities and getting more people trained in the health profession. Kamwi also paid tribute to the technical and financial assistance Namibia has received and continues to receive from the World Health Organisation (WHO)

March 2010
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