1 December 2017

Namibia: Gambling With the Nation's Health


Five surgeons sent an SOS missive to health minister Bernard Haufiku this week in which they state that more people are dying because of "unprecedented shortages" of basics in the country's busiest hospitals.

The cry for help came after recent months witnessed the circulation of various photos depicting the shortages and the impact these have had on state hospitals in both Windhoek and Oshakati.

Essential drugs are inaccessible, lighting and air conditioning in the operating theatres are poor, and even basics such as sterile gowns, gloves, sterile drapers, catheters and wound dressing plasters are unavailable.

The surgeons said the shortages are resulting in increased morbidity.

Among the problems: "Repeated procedures for sepsis either intra-abdominal or anterior abdominal wall and cross infections. Antibiotic uses and resistance. Theatre lists that cannot be completed. Waiting lists that are getting longer," the doctors wrote in a letter to Haufiku.

Their intention was not to malign the ministry, they said, but the increasing deaths of patients have demoralised them and they are risking their professional credibility by providing care to patients under the circumstances.

With the holiday season nearing, they fear for the worst.

"This season should be considered as a critical emergency for it will deteriorate to life-threatening conditions. It was planned that 15 December will be the last elective surgery day," they said, while urging the minister to close the theatres immediately and to reopen only after stocktaking and restocking has been done.

Judging by what these surgeons have alleged, our state hospitals in Windhoek and at Oshakati are bleeding.

We have reached national crisis levels, and the reaction should not only include an urgent response but should also have resulted in a crisis Cabinet meeting to release money at an accelerated pace.

All other things, including foreign trips by the President and his Cabinet members, should be foregone to make way to deal with this calamity.

Do we expect the media to first have to report on the number of people who have died due to such negligence by our leaders before action is taken? Even if it happens this way, we know that authorities will claim the media is sensationalising issues.

In fact, investigations will be conducted by those who are partly involved and the outcome will be a total exoneration for those responsible.

What we should see following such a cry by the surgeons is an angry nation which demands action as in yesterday.

We would not have reached the current dire situation had we prioritised the implementation of the presidential commission report on the state of our health which was commissioned by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2012.

Those findings have been collecting dust, while health authorities will claim that they have implemented several recommendations.

At that stage already the procurement process was questioned and this week the surgeons even questioned the need for the establishment, earlier this year, of the central procurement system which had replaced what they saw as "a functional system".

If the cry by the doctors is not seen as a real emergency, then the nation needs to question the leadership running our government.

Even one death is too many, but clearly the doctors have seen a lot more going wrong. And they are not even referring to the overcrowded wards.

Beds and mattresses in the corridors of the Windhoek Central Hospital have become a daily sight and because they are desperate for treatment, patients no longer complain.

Their silence should not be seen as approval of the current state of affairs and the muteness of the relatives who quietly collect the bodies of their relatives at mortuaries should not be underestimated.

We expect an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue and to speedily give instructions to remedy the situation.


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