Namibia’s health disaster response capacity satisfactory

The WHO Regional Committee for Africa meeting that recently took place in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, pooled together 47 African Ministers of Health who shared ideas on issues to do with provision of quality health to their citizens.

Namibian Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Bernard Haufiku was one of the officials who attended the meeting from 28 August to 1 September. In an interview with our Senior Writer Lovemore Ranga Mataire (L.R.M) on the side-lines of the summit, Dr Haufiku (B.H) shared his views about the meeting and other health related matters.

L.R.M: Honourable Minister briefly explain why this meeting is of critical importance to Namibia, the region and the continent?

B.H: Well, the meeting is important to the whole continent. As you know that it’s organised under the auspices of the regional committee, the African part of WHO and as you can see it’s a jam-packed agenda.

We have issues that are quite relevant to all of us. We are talking of universal health coverage, which is basically meaning taking quality affordable services to everyone on the planet without risking the burden of financing.

That’s the bottom line and it has components, like you need to have health care workers, you have to have the infrastructure, you have the right communication technology and perhaps more importantly you have to have the right financing, that’s universal health coverage.

The other topic is international health regulation, which many African countries battle to meet their core capacity requirements due to various resources constrains and the overall issue of strengthening health systems on the continent or globally, so it’s a whole lot of things and that’s why this meeting is very, very crucial.

L.R.M: How significant is it that the meeting is taking place at a time when we have a new WHO director general and his first meeting is in Africa?

B.H: Well, that’s very significant. First of all, you have a director general of WHO for the very first time in the history of this organisation who is from the mostly challenged part of the world – and that’s Africa. But the good part is that we have someone with so much experience in the sector over the last couple of decades.

I mean, he was a Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Health, he was chairman of Global Fund, he knows all the corners of the world. So we relate to him as one of us, who came from the same background where much of the attention in global health needs to be focused. So it’s kind of blessing and it’s also his first baptism of fire. He has to hit the ground running basically. The good thing is that he knows many of the people that are key stakeholders in health, in governance issues, in financing and we hope with the support that we are pledging to give him, he can go all the way.

L.R.M: Are you happy with the budgetary allocations normally given to health ministries, particularly the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia?

B.H: I don’t think any minister of health would be satisfied with any budgetary allocation. But I am just a little bit maybe frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t meet the Abuja Declaration, which entails that we must allocate 15 percent of all expenditure to health.

We need to do that and it’s not even the end itself, it’s just one of the steps in making health truly accessible to all the people on the continent. I think we need to review our priorities in terms of financial standing. We need to make our colleagues in other sectors understand that health is where it starts. If you are not healthy there is nothing you can do.

L.R.M: How prepared is Namibia in terms of a national health disaster occurring?

B.H: We are working on that; we have a disaster response unit under the Prime Minister’s office. The only problem is that so far we only have simulations. We were never really challenged. Not that I wish to be challenged, obviously nobody would want that. But we need to be challenged in one way or another to be able to test our readiness capacity. But we have all the necessary logistics. We have the political commitment and the technical support from our partners and WHO. I would say yes over the mark of 50 percent ready, maybe 60 or 70 percent ready, I would not say 100 percent until we are put to the test.

L.R.M: Are you happy generally with WHO engagements with member states?

B.H: I can perhaps only speak on behalf of Namibia. With Namibia we have wonderful collaboration, we had good support from the previous representative before I took office, to the current doctor Charles Sango, a Ghanaian national who worked long in WHO and very, very supportive.

We are working together to coordinate and harmonise all the external support to our national strategic plan and plan of action. That is really the guiding principle for any intervention on health.

L.R.M: Several Ministers spoke on the efforts that they are undertaking to contain yellow fever. What efforts are being done by Namibian to contain the outbreak?

B.H: We were ready. Remember this outbreak was in Angola up to the Kunene Province, which has only an artificial border with Namibia. Essentially you could say it was almost there in northern Namibia. Luckily or by whatever means we never had a case of yellow fever. What we had was Congo fever.

They are all viral diseases but yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes while Congo fever is spread by ticks. Maybe Congo fever is more devastating than yellow fever. We had two deaths this year in Namibia due to Congo fever. But coming to yellow fever, when the outbreak happened in Angola, we almost took it because there is hardly any distinction between southern Angolan people and northern Namibian people. So we put up robust mechanism to screen everyone, to vaccinate everyone and send medicine stocks to those regions as a way of containing the diseases.

L.R.M: Honourable, thank you for your time.

B.H: Thank you my brother

September 2017
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