17 January 2019

Namibia: Health Passports Shortages Persist

Patients in most parts of the country are being asked to bring notebooks, or else their medical records will be written on pieces of paper as state hospitals continue to grapple with a shortage of health passports.

Since last year, the health ministry has been unable to order health passports, something that affects the keeping of proper medical records.

A patient at the Keetmanshoop State Hospital, Josef Mutambo, yesterday said he had been issued with a piece of paper on Tuesday because his health passport is full.

"You must have a health passport as this loose piece of paper can easily get lost," he remarked, adding that he was told that the hospital had run out of health passports.

A staff member at the hospital yesterday confirmed the shortage, saying the hospital has been without the health passports for quite a long time.

//Karas regional health director Bartholomeus Muntenda said he was not aware that health passports were out of stock.

"That is very administrative," he said, referring to the lack of health passports at the hospital. "The patient's medical history recorded in the health passport is very crucial for doctors to give the correct treatment."

Muntenda said the shortage could be a result of a stock order hiccup which could have resulted in health passports not being in stock at the hospital, and referred The Namibian to the hospital's senior medical officer, Dr Hervi Sabwa.

"Talk to him and come back to me," he added.

The Namibian, however, could not get hold of Sabwa as he was attending to patients in the casualty ward.

When contacted again, Muntenda said "I still have no answer, unless they explain the situation of health passports to me."

"Stationery is not an issue," he added.

A 17-year-old patient at a clinic at Gobabis, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had been issued with pieces of paper every time she had visited the hospital since last year.

She had then lost the pieces of paper she got last year on which her medical records have been written down.

Kennedy Uiseb from Walvis Bay said he was surprised when the hospital staff wrote his daughter's details on a piece of paper last week.

"I was also surprised when I took my daughter [to the hospital] last week. We got a piece of paper. She has to go for dressing regularly, and that piece of paper will get full. Then, maybe they will give another one? I will have to staple them together because I need to keep her history... but what if one piece gets lost?" Uiseb asked rhetorically.

This is not the first time that state hospitals and clinics have faced a shortage of health passports.

Omaheke regional health director Jeremia Shikulo, who confirmed that hospitals have been treating patients without health passports for a while, said the problem was common in most parts of the country.

He said there had been no new orders since last year from the head office in Windhoek, where they usually source them from.

Shikulo added that they are now forced to scribble down patients' health information on pieces of paper, which is an inconvenience to everybody involved.

He said scribbling patients' information on pieces of paper was not favourable for record-keeping as there have been cases of patients losing these papers.

Shikulo stated that this affects patients' follow-ups since doctors would not know where to start treating them, especially those with chronic diseases.

"The patients need to be treated according to what had been prescribed to them before," he said.

He thus blamed the changes in the procurement process, saying it was causing delays in acquiring new passports.

A doctor at the Oshakati State Hospital said patients mostly get stamped papers.

"For now, those who can afford it are advised to get a small handbook so that their clinical information is kept together because the papers do get lost," the doctor observed. An employee at Robert Mugabe Clinic in Windhoek also said they have not had health passports since December, while a doctor at Windhoek Central Hospital said the hospital has been out of health passports for close to a year now. But, the doctor said, this is the least of their worries as hospitals have other pressing issues to deal with.

"We give them papers. So, smart ones bought books from Pep Stores. They must pray for things to get better".

In 2017, some state hospitals and clinics in the Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions also ran out of health passports for up to three months.

Medical personnel were left to write prescriptions and medical records on pieces of paper.

At that stage already, some health workers had expressed concern that they had to write on pieces of paper, and described the situation as a real concern.

The passports do help health workers with a patient's history.

* Contributors: Luqman Cloete, Tuyeimo Haidula, Julia Kamarenga and Taati Niilenge

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