Are Diseases Like Leprosy Recurring?

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK With the re-emergence of old and new diseases, the Ministry of Health and Social Services is urgently looking for more funds in the new year to address the growing challenges of health in the country. Although leprosy is said to be an ancient disease which was long overcome, there are indications of an emergence of new leprosy cases in the north of the country. It is feared that with increasing levels of poverty in rural communities, inadequate housing, poor hygiene and the high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, more leprosy cases could emerge. Already, there is a whole group of people living with leprosy at Muroro Village in the Mashare Constituency in the Kavango Region. Another challenge that faced the health sector this year is the re-emergence of diseases like the wild polio outbreak in early May – the first after more than ten years. The health authorities are also worried about the cholera situation in neighbouring Angola, as the possibility of the disease reaching Namibia cannot be ruled out. Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, has stressed the need for more resources in the new year. “It is clear that the health sector is severely challenged. We need the necessary resources to be able to keep the nation healthy,” said Kamwi during a recent interview with New Era. Another major concern for the Health Ministry is the high cost of antiretroviral drugs for those living positively with the HIV virus. “At this stage, we are receiving wonderful assistance from development partners. But the question is – how long will this continue?” Kamwi said the health sector budget must be drastically increased next year to cater for the growing health challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He cited as an example Botswana’s health budget which stands at 20 percent of the government’s total expenditure. Much of the increase is due to the high number of people on antiretroviral treatment. Despite the fact that the health industry may have qualified medical personnel, there is concern that the lack of technological, financial, logistics, infrastructure and technological systems could frustrate medical personnel. “So we have a highly motivated workforce on the one hand, which constantly becomes frustrated by slow and tedious processes and procedures, by lack of maintenance of facilities and infrastructure”. These systems have never really been reformed since independence. “The year 2007 may have to be such a year of change,” added Kamwi. The poor condition of most State Hospitals is another challenge the Ministry is trying to address with limited resources. Currently, the ministry has a total infrastructure worth more than N$3-billion. “That is what it would cost if we had to rebuild all our hospitals, clinics and health centres in the country,” explained Kamwi, adding that his ministry receives less than N$100-million per year from government development budget to maintain these structures. Yet, this has proven difficult. Another worry is that the Ministry is practically sitting with, what the Health Minister termed, an “ageing workforce” like, for example, in the cleaning section. “A cleaner who has cleaned floors for 30 years loses interest and becomes old and sickly. So we are not getting the same productivity out of such a person. Yet, we cannot lay staff off just due to them having reached the age of 50 or so. These are the realities,” said Kamwi. The issue of pests like cockroaches remains a headache at State Hospitals. Despite the fact that the public is requested not to bring in food for patients, this still happens every day and ultimately attracts cockroaches to the wards. However, Kamwi noted that the problem was being addressed at all times since the health of patients cannot be compromised. Kamwi is of the opinion that health is the most technical sector of the national economy, and time has arrived for change for the better in the coming New Year (2007).