By Petronella Sibeene
Northern Namibia is a ticking bomb as ravaging floods have rendered most health facilities inaccessible and have strained health personnel and resources.
The current health and sanitary situation in the North, which can be described as dire by any standards, has prompted the Government and various stakeholders to appeal for coordinated rescue efforts.
A high-level delegation comprising Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, Minister of Defence, Charles Namoloh, World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative, Dr Magda Robalo, and Unicef Representative, Madhavi Ashok, yesterday toured some of the affected areas in the Ohangwena Region to assess the impact of the floods.
Aerial assessments reveal families and animals stranded in the floods. Most homesteads, clinics, schools are submerged while vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges have been washed away. Only rooftops can be seen popping out of the water in a scene resembling the biblical floods of Noah’s Ark.
Regional Health Director for Ohangwena, Kaino Pohamba, in her briefing to the delegation said 24 out of 36 outreach points are no longer operating or accessible. She added that roads connecting Engela State Hospital to other areas have been washed away, hindering health service delivery to most communities.
Worse still, the Ohangwena Region faces a shortage of human resources especially doctors.
This situation unfolds at a time when cholera cases are also on the increase.
By yesterday, there were 128 cases of suspected cholera, eight confirmed cases, two deaths and 47 admitted patients at Engela State Hospital.
Overwhelmed by the situation, Pohamba disclosed to the delegation that the region faces human resources shortages especially doctors as the hospital experiences high turnover.
Dr Naftali Hamata, Regional Health Director for Oshana, said although his region has not recorded any cases of cholera, about 97 cases of mild diarrhoea have been reported at different health centres in his region.
Omusati has also recorded cases of mild diarrhoea with patients being treated on an outpatient basis. No cholera cases have been reported in this area either.
According to Hamata, health officials in the affected regions are distributing water purification sachets and thousands have already been given out.
The Namibia Defence Force availed two helicopters, which have been distributing supplies to all health centres and are being used as ambulances in emergency cases.
He also said that six doctors from different regions have indicated their willingness to render their services in Ohangwena where human resources have been overstretched many patients mainly complaining of diarrhoea are coming in.
Kamwi appealed for coordinated efforts to rescue the situation, adding that Hamata has been appointed as activity coordinator for the three regions.
Chief Regional Officer for Ohangwena, Daniel Kashikolo, said the regional council set up an emergency committee. He said coordination among stakeholders is highly necessary especially since reaching the affected areas is difficult due to damaged road infrastructure.
“There might be need for mosquito nets somewhere, but if the ministry does not have and the regional council has, we can always avail them provided we are informed. We need to ensure a free flow of information at all time,” he said.
The minister urged regional directors from the Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati regions to ensure they get up-to-date information from primary health care officials. He added that the directors should further ensure that water purification sachets among other necessities are distributed to the residents.
“Awareness is key. Inform residents of the symptoms of cholera. We are dealing with a lay person, inform them,” he stressed.
The Unicef representative, Ashok, said two experts in flood management are expected from Mozambique to help plan how to deal with a critical flood situation like the one in the North.
She added that her office would also bring in medical supplies, tents and meet other critical areas. Such items will come from the Unicef regional office based in Kenya.
Apart from health concerns, she added that Unicef is also looking into the welfare of children after the floods, particularly in the area of education.
She said some children are likely to be displaced by the current floods and thus Unicef will have to look into how these children can be brought back to school.
For the past 48 hours, Unicef has been planning how to apply its code commitment document that stipulates how the organisation is expected to react in such emergencies, she said yesterday.
Ashok added that Namibia is one country that has not really been faced with such an emergency for years as such, there is need to swiftly plan on how to practically apply the document in terms of emergencies.
She added, “We are also contemplating setting up a temporary emergency coordination office.”
In the same way, Robalo also said WHO is increasingly getting concerned about the impact that climate change has on health.
With most outreach points reported to be inaccessible, some Aids and tuberculosis patients cannot reach health centres to collect their drugs.
“We are overwhelmingly concerned,” said Robalo.
Since last week, a UN team has been in the North and Robalo reiterated the organisation’s support to the affected.
Facts About Cholera
Cholera is an acute illness with profuse watery diarrhoea caused by the vibrio cholerae bacteria. It is transmitted through the faeco-oral route mainly by drinking or eating contaminated water or food.
Symptoms of cholera include
– Passing a lot of loose watery stools which look like rice water,
– Stools have a fishy smell
– Dehydration and weakness may occur very rapidly.
– Immediately report any cases of people showing any of these symptoms,
– Should drink boiled water,
– Wash hands before preparing food and after using the toilet,
– Avoid washing hands from the same bowl at gatherings such as weddings and funerals,
– Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating,
– Avoid using the bush to relieve yourselves or if you do so, ensure that human waste is buried or properly disposed of. (Source: Ministry of Health and Social Services.)