18 February 2013

Namibia: Epidemic Response Must Be Redoubled

NAMIBIA has faced many epidemics over the past few years - some of local origin and others from abroad - and while the country managed to survive these outbreaks, it is vital that outbreak preparedness, awareness and response be redoubled to contain them.

These were the remarks of Health Minister Richard Kamwi at the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training (FELTP) conference held in Swakopmund last week.

Namibia recently experienced outbreaks of H1N1 influenza (swine flu); SARS, Rift Valley fever and Ebola. At the beginning of this year, two people died of anthrax, while another 19 survived the disease. Besides this, Namibia also faces a rabies problem.

"All these experiences call for the redoubling of our efforts," said Kamwi.

He added that it was crucial that human and animal doctors cooperate in outbreak preparedness as in many cases diseases are transmitted from animals to people.

"This does not just cause illness and death, but there is also a tremendous loss in monetary value when livestock and commercial game is destroyed because of the disease," he said.

Kamwi said of the approximately 32 000 head of cattle in the north, only 50% are vaccinated.

"We need to go beyond 90% if we want to win. If not, we create a problem," he warned.

The anthrax outbreak in the Oshikoto Region earlier this year was caused by people eating meat from an infected cow carcass, a study by the Health Ministry has shown.

"People need to know, in their own non-scientific language, that they should not eat dead animals, especially if they see signs of disease. We need to increase our efforts to educate people for better awareness, and also be able to mobilise our resources more effectively," said Kamwi.

He said rabies has cost cattle farmers N$13 million since 2006, and game farmers N$1,5 million. According to statistics, 523 cattle, 521 dogs and 409 kudu were reported as infected with rabies during this time.

Between 2008 and 2011, 62 people died of rabies, with the highest number in Kavango and Ohangwena.

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