The government has been urged to consider abolishing health user fees and to make free access to health care a priority in economic and human rights terms.
"Removing user fees may be a direct way to increase access and assist in improving health outcomes without a considerable increase in budgetary costs for the state," said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, when presenting preliminary observations on her visit yesterday in the capital.
Namibia's health user fees - money paid at public health centres - are a small amount of between N$4 and N$8.
However, for many Namibians living in extreme poverty, the amount is often a deterrent to seeking health care, said Sepúlveda whose eight-day mission to communities in the Khomas, Kavango and Karas regions ended on Monday.
While the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased considerably, the poorest sectors of the society have not benefited they way they should. "Inequality and poverty levels are still at unacceptable levels," Sepúlveda said, adding that she is bothered by the "negative impact" of the school development fund scheme, which she also suggested could be done away with. Government is already considering abolishing the school development fund.
"Although administrative guidelines instruct schools to exempt poor and vulnerable children from contributing to the school development fund, the exemptions are not fully implemented in practice," the Special Rapporteur noted. As a result, poor children are dropping out of school, kept away from school or often their school reports are withheld until payment is made. "All these are in contravention of the right to free primary education," she said.
In addition, the positive impact of grants to orphans and vulnerable children is diminished when part of it is used for school development funds instead of being used on food or for health care. Although the recipients of child welfare grants are supposed to be exempted from paying school development funds, many people are unaware of the exemptions or lack the information and resources to challenge schools that refuse to grant the exemption, she highlighted.
"I encourage government to promptly repeal this scheme, while ensuring that schools most in need of additional resources receive the necessary funding from the state without having to charge fees to parents and caregivers," Sepúlveda said.
A detailed report on Sepúlveda's observations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June next year.