Windhoek — The Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi yesterday publicly acknowledged that Namibian nurses are overworked due to a critical shortage of nurses in the ministry.
Currently, there is a deficit of 525 registered nurses and an additional 975 vacant posts for enrolled nurses still to be filled. As a result, local nurses in the public sector are continuously overworked, causing some of them to resign and seek greener pastures with private health institutions in the country.
In an attempt to plug the brain drain, the Ministry of Health last year started recruiting nurses from Kenya. The first contingent of these nurses is expected in the first week of April.
Due to the "wild allegations" from three callers to the
national broadcaster's Open Line radio programme recently, Kamwi briefed the media yesterday to clear the misconceptions over the recruitment of nurses from Kenya.
It was alleged that Kenyan nurses were being imported at the expense of Namibian nurses and that the ministry is not doing anything to train its own medical staff.
Refuting these allegations, Kamwi was adamant that Kenyan nurses would only be here to help the ministry to cope with the shortage of local nursing staff.
"They are only here on two-year contracts based on a Memorandum of Understanding between Namibia and Kenya. They are not here to take vacant positions of Namibians," explained the minister, who added that if there are any Namibian nurses without work, they should apply through the proper channels.
The number of registered nurses recruited from Kenya will stand at 103. Fifty-nine of these have been approved for employment by the Public Service Commission (PSC), of which 34 have been authorised to practice as midwives.
According to the agreement, a group of between 15 and 20 Kenyan nurses will be recruited at a time and placed first in the priority regions of Caprivi, Kavango and Kunene.
In relation to this move, Kamwi noted with concern that there was a growing trend of Namibian nurses refusing to work in rural communities.
"Our own qualified registered nurses do not want to operate in rural areas either they choose the urban dwellings instead, saying it is close to shopping centres, transport convenience. But I think some of these excuses are quite shabby."
Also, volunteer nurses from as far as the United States, Austria and Cuba are willing to work in the remote parts of the country.
Meanwhile, responding to claims that Namibian nurses are underpaid, Kamwi said on the contrary, salary scales surpass those of South Africa. Namibia has been cited as the best in Southern Africa, he said.
For instance, based on a South African salary scale structure quoted in June last year, an enrolled nurse in that country received between N$49 227 and N$57 150 compared to a Namibian enrolled nurse with a salary scale of N$49 665 to N$62 895.
A registered Namibian nurse falls in the range of N$80 280-N$91 968, while SA nurses in the same category are on a scale of N$72 096-N$83 703. A slight improvement in difference is also noted for the chief registered nurse, where Namibians received N$116 517-N$130 593 and their counterparts between N$111 528 and N$129 483 a year.
In terms of the number of resignations experienced from April 2004 to February 2006, the numbers are minimal especially for those who migrate to the United Kingdom.
So far, 12 registered nurses have resigned to go to the UK, while 127 more have left the Ministry of Health for greener pastures in the private sector. Those enrolled and registered nurses who returned to the public health sector stand at 54.
Kamwi noted that concern was not so much about the number of nurses leaving for the private sector within the country but those leaving the country. A lot is also being done to lure more nurses to rural areas.
It is apparent that the resignations are mainly for better remuneration. "Either one wants to buy a car or a house or just wants to have their pension," said the minister, adding that this was their prerogative.
The ministry is training new intern nurses through the two-year Pre-Medical and Pharmacy Programme at the University of Namibia, where 45 students enrol every year.