Namibia: Readiness for COVID-19 Worries Doctors

Several medical doctors in public institutions have complained that they were not fully prepared to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, in addition to a lack of consultations and coordination.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula, however, blamed the medical officers for failing to turn up at a meeting he organised. He promised to meet them today. There is another problem: Shangula admitted the government was not prepared when a patient who tested positive for Covid-19 was transferred from Lady Pohamba Hospital to Windhoek Central Hospital earlier this month. Doctors fear that this had the potential to contaminate the ward and infect people working there due to a lack of preparedness of medical personnel at the time.

In addition, there are also concerns that Namibia recently lost a chance to buy 30 ventilators due to ministerial procurement officers who blocked the importation of the respiratory machines.

The Namibian understands that there was a meeting in Windhoek last

Wednesday before the lockdown, attended by doctors, heads of departments, senior superintendents, pharmacists and technicians.

Shangula did not attend the meeting.

A doctor who was at the meeting told The Namibian over the weekend that there were several key unanswered questions on how to contain the virus.

Doctors allegedly questioned the availability of medical equipment such as ventilators - machines used to support patients with severe respiratory conditions. A ventilator takes over the body's breathing process when disease has caused the lungs to fail.

Some doctors suggested that the government should get ventilators from public facilities in other regions or request private health centres to assist.

There have been complaints over the past years that health professionals lacked basic medical equipment such as protective gear, including gloves. Some are said to have used their own money in the past to buy medical equipment to treat patients.

The Namibian understands that the health ministry allegedly bought 30 ventilators directly from a South African supplier.

However, procurement officials in the ministry allegedly blocked the machines from entering the country at the border, saying the proper process of buying them was not followed. Health officials have used Namibian companies - mostly empowerment entities - instead of buying medical products directly from suppliers, something former minister Bernard Haufiku tried to stop, saying it cost the government more money.

Shangula denied knowledge of the failed purchase of the 30 ventilators.

"I don't know about the issue you are talking about. What I know is that we received ventilators yesterday [Friday]. They were bought from South Africa through an emergency process," he said on Saturday.

Shangula added: "I saw the ventilators when they delivered [them]. I don't deal with logistics or procurement".

The minister did not provide the number of ventilators available at public healthcare centres but he insisted that the government has ventilators in reserve.

"What we received yesterday was about 10. So far we did not have any need to use ventilators on coronavirus patients. We are still going to order more," he said.

Sources said some doctors called Shangula last week, warning him that the fight against the virus could be chaotic if the process is not properly coordinated.

"Ask Shangula to explain if he spoke to doctors. They don't know what to do. Doctors are saying they are not properly briefed," a medical source told The Namibian on Saturday.

Shangula said he had a meeting with all the staff early this month, but did not provide the date. The concerns were that Shangula did not meet the doctors a few days before the lockdown, especially since there were new lockdown regulations. The minister insisted that hospitals are run by medical superintendents who make sure that the workforce is aware of what is happening.

"It's not the minister or executive directors' job to micromanage hospitals. We are dealing with policy issues," he said.

"I called everybody. Every staff member. They never showed up. I have scheduled a meeting. The first time they did not show up. Monday [today], after the meeting which is coordinating the response, I will call them again.

"I hope for them to attend. The problem is not my non-availability. It's their non availability when they are called," he said.

AMBUSHED

Shangula said there are specialists who are looking after the patient who tested positive at the Windhoek Central Hospital. But he is not impressed with the manner he was brought into the hospital.

"Do you know how the patient came to Windhoek Central Hospital? The Lady Pohamba Hospital just decided that they are no longer going to accommodate the patient. They put the patient in the ambulance and said, go to the ministry. Nobody knew that there was a patient coming," Shangula said.

According to him, people at the hospital were confronted with an unexpected situation. "The ambulance was there with the patient and there was no information that the patient was coming. They had to make quick arrangements to take in the patient," he said.

Shangula added: "The [ambulance] driver just came, went up in the elevator and dumped the patient in one of the wards. It was very risky. It is true that people were not prepared".

He said specialists have the situation under control and that hospital staff are accommodated at the section for VIPs at the hospital.

That section was allegedly reserved for important people like ministers but is said to be hardly used.

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