New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Nation Is a Beacon of Hope

Windhoek — Graça Machel, the wife of revered former South African president, Nelson Mandela, has hailed Namibia as one of the few African countries that can give hope to Africa in terms of addressing challenges confronting the continent.

The former first lady was speaking to health practitioners at the Katutura State Hospital yesterday. Also present during her interaction were the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister, and representatives from UN agencies. Machel, who addressed the gathering before she was taken on a guided tour around the hospital, said Africa and South-East Asia are two continents that are struggling to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's).

The fact that many African countries risk not achieving the MDG's is an issue of great concern, said the Mozambique-born Machel. She is on a three-day official visit to the country to, among others, encourage Namibia to scale up its nutrition.

Although Namibia is doing relatively well in achieving the MDG's, Machel believes much more can be done to achieve at least three or four MDG's.

The MDG's are eight international development goals that were identified following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. The MDG's are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing the child mortality rate; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

"You (Namibians) are among those who give hope," she said. With three years left before the target date for achieving the MDG's expires, Machel said: "Please do much more."

In Namibia, all the challenges are very well identified, she said."

Despite the fact that this is a huge country, most women do come for antenatal treatment. It means people trust the system. But the contradiction is the high neonatal and infant mortality rate," she said.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services this year made headlines over the reported deaths of women while giving birth at the Katutura State Hospital, while the number of children who died during delivery also came under the spotlight. A report compiled by the Ministry of Health and Social Services indicates a neonatal mortality rate of 11 per 1000 and a maternal mortality rate of 97 per 100 000 at the beginning of this year.

However, from July to September, a neonatal mortality rate of 13 per 1000 and a maternal mortality rate of 118 per 100 000 was recorded.

Machel said it means all efforts (to curb the situation) are not sufficient to significantly drop mortality rates. "Women do trust you that's why they come (to hospitals), but we as a system must keep them alive. Keep the mothers alive, keep the babies alive! We need to, as teams in hospitals, take to deep thinking on what we can do to keep women and children alive. What can we do better, what can we do differently," she said.

She admitted that health practitioners have a huge responsibility. "We acknowledge your task is not easy that's why we respect you," said Machel.

Machel who is passionate about the welfare of women and children further stressed the need to integrate the programmes of the various ministries to address the problems the country faces.

For example, there is a need to strengthen the relationship between the health ministry and the agriculture ministry to address the issue of malnutrition and stunting among children.

In addition, Machel touched on the urgency to eradicate "paediatric AIDS". A mother who is HIV positive can give birth to an HIV negative baby, she noted.

"It is possible," she said. "It is not by chance that I became passionate about women and children. Any radical social change will be effective if you change the state of women and children," said Mandela's wife to loud applause. Machel's tour around the Katutura State Hospital, included the paediatric ward, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the maternity section.

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