14 January 2013

Namibia: Shortage Cripples Oshakati State Hospital

A SHORTAGE of doctors, nurses, equipment and facilities is crippling medical services in the Oshakati State Hospital, the largest hospital in northern Namibia.

Well-placed sources at the hospital told The Namibian that there was a severe shortage of medical staff, especially specialist doctors and registered nurses.

The sources said many of the wards are overcrowded, especially the orthopedic ward with patients from Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Kunene, as well as southern Angola.

This ward is supposed to accommodate 40 patients, but currently has over 60, with many lying on the floors. There are only six nurses attending to them, while getting a doctor to assist on time is difficult.

The doctor shortage, and the fact that the hospital's only theatre is becoming too small, result in patients not getting surgery on time, sometimes having to wait up to four days.

"If a doctor has a patient who has a broken arm or leg or so, and wants to operate immediately, but finds that there is no space in the theater, they are forced to postpone the operation to the next day or so," the sources said.

Taking X-rays is also a problem because of a shortage of porters, trolleys and wheelchairs to take patients to the X-ray department. The handful of nurses who are in that ward cannot do this work because they are attending to other patients.

Another problem is medical services. According to sources, some doctors arrive early in the day to see their patients while others come late.

"Some patients might be very sick that day, and need a doctor on time, but it happens that the doctor only comes later," sources said, adding that if these patients were treated on time, they could be referred back to their area hospitals for follow-ups. This would decrease the number of patients at the Oshakati State Hospital and so lessen the strain on staff and facilities there.

Some water pipes in the hospital are leaking, resulting in some rooms being flooded. Sources said this has been going on for a long time.

This situation is discouraging doctors from working at the Oshakati State Hospital, the sources said. They said many of the foreign doctors, especially Cubans, who used to work there have left.

The acting superintendent of the Oshakati State Hospital, Dr Phillip Nakangombe, confirmed the reports. He said they are trying their best with the remaining staff to keep medical services going.

According to him, up to 25 Cuban doctors (on whom the hospital heavily relies) went on leave and did not return, resulting in a serious shortage of doctors. He said the hospital is now accommodating more than 850 patients but has only 750 beds, and only 53 doctors. Doctors seeing patients in wards are also attending to the outpatients.

Nakangombe warned people not to treat foreign doctors badly because, if these doctors decide to leave, Namibia would suffer the consequences.

"The situation is serious, and we cannot overcome it overnight. We have our own young Namibians who are currently studying medicine at Unam 's medical school and elsewhere, but it will still take ten years or more to have enough of our own doctors. Until then, this shortage will be with Namibia," he said.

Regarding the shortage of equipment, Nakangombe said this was not serious.

"We can still cope with what we have," he said.

According to him, the water leaks were repaired over the weekend. He said the pipes were damaged during the current reconstruction of the hospital.

Nakangombe said the reconstruction would result in inconvenience and appealed for patience. Once the project is finished, the hospital will have 1 050 beds - enough to cater for all five northern regions and southern Angola.

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