The rural hospital that changed Namibia’s healthcare scene

By Tileni Mongudhi

Last week a private hospital situated in what use to be one of the homelands of Namibia once more made history after it was certified as a teaching hospital.

The Health Professionals Council of Namibia licenced the Ongwediva Medipark hospital to partner with the University of Namibia’s School of Medicine.

The event was officiated by Ongwediva Medipark managing director and founder Dr Tshali Iithete and Unam’s vice-chancellor Lazarus Hangula.

At the event, Iithete said that the hospitals primary objective is to complement existing health care facilities in the region by creating a centre of excellence in health delivery.

“We have recognised the need to elevate the standard of healthcare in Namibia to be in-line with proven global trends and our Namibian health needs,” he emphasised.

Apart from the fact that the certification was the first of its kind to be awarded, Ongwediva Medipark is also the first private hospital in Namibia to allow medical students from the University of Namibia to do their practical training and internship programmes with the hospital. This responsibility was largely left to the country’s state hospitals.

“It is a well-known fact that the best healthcare facilities in the world are the teaching or academic facilities, simply because the healthcare practitioners in these facilities are in touch with the latest technologies and advancement in medicine and healthcare,” Iithete said, explaining one of the benefits the agreement will have for the hospital’s patients.

The Southern Times understands that the hospital opened its doors to the university around 2013 when all other private hospitals in the country were unwilling to take in medical interns from the Unam School of Medicine. Today it is not only doctors who are being trained at the hospital but nurses and pharmacists as well.

The formalised partnership with Unam is not only expected to benefit the university and its students but it is also expected to go a long way in improving medical services to a part of Namibia that has been largely neglected. Ongwediva is situated in what use to be known as Owamboland, a homeland or Bantustan before the country gained its independence 27 years ago.

Homelands were starved of basic services and were not considered worthy of economic development during those days. Before the hospital was opened the nearest private hospital to Ongwediva was more than 300 km away.

But the new classification of Ongwediva Medipark as a teaching hospital, though significant does not begin to tell the full story of this hospital and its significance to medical history in Namibia.

Between 2007, when the hospital opened its doors to the public, to 2017 the hospital has broken records and has recorded a number of firsts for private health facilities in Namibia.

The most celebrated achievement came in March 2016, when it carried out Namibia’s first-ever successful kidney transplant. In the eyes of the Namibian public the achievement put the hospital above all private hospitals in the country.

In 2014 the hospital also recorded history after it successfully operated and corrected a patient suffering from scoliosis. Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve. In this case the patient’s spine grew in an S-shape form. The breakthrough operation went unnoticed, but The Southern Times could not get any evidence of the procedure having been done elsewhere in the country.

The hospital

Ongwediva Medipark opened its doors to the public 10 years ago and was led by Tshali Iithete. At the time Iithete was a young doctor who was only 35-years-old, even younger when the process of establishing the hospital started, and many considered him to be inexperienced to run a hospital. He started off as the sole doctor at the hospital, but was joined by two others a few months later. The hospital had a nursing staff complement of about 40 nurses, with the hospital’s patients’ capacity of 55 beds.

This rural hospital was also the first to offer medical service to government employees and accepted the government medical aid fund, a practice new to Namibia since private hospitals always discriminated against beneficiaries of the Public Service Employees Medical Aid Scheme (PSEMAS).

In 2017 Ongwediva Medipark is a state-of-the-art medical centre with all the services and specialist medical care found elsewhere in the world. The hospital now has 30 specialist doctors in various disciplines all based at the hospital. This makes it the hospital with the highest concentration of specialists in the country. At least 27 general practitioners complement the specialist doctors. The nursing population has now also grown to 280, while the beds have also doubled to 100 but more wards are being constructed to accommodate a further 30 to 40 beds.

Talk of a hospital in rural Namibia offering world class medical services, some only found in South Africa, made Ongwediva a hub for health tourism. Since the hospital is closer to the Angolan border, Angolan nationals started opting to take the shorter distance to Ongwediva for treatment instead of taking the nearly 1000 km journey to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital.

Soon it was not only Angolans but also Namibians based in other parts of the country, including the capital.

The country’s Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, also entered into an agreement with the hospital to enable it to send its road accident trauma patients to the hospital for the specialised care offered by Ongwediva Medipark.

May 2017
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