By Petronella Sibeene
Lack of pit latrines and general toilet facilities in the northern regions of the country is likely to compromise health officials’ efforts in curbing cholera, a disease that has since early this year claimed more than 37 lives.
Regional Health Director for the Ohangwena Region Dr Naftali Hamata has said if no drastic measures are taken to address the situation, the affected areas should be prepared to have cholera cases every rainy season.
Since Friday, 1 406 suspected cholera cases were recorded in the Ohangwena Region with 17 confirmed laboratory cases and 19 deaths, Dr Hamata said.
“Sanitation and clean water remain some of the challenges in the regions. The majority of people do not have access to latrines, a good place for cholera to spread,” the doctor said.
He warned: “If no drastic measures are taken, it will be difficult to control the disease. My fear is we will have cholera year in and year out.”
The 2001 census report shows that in Ohangwena, 89 percent of the people have no proper toilet facilities while in Omusati, 83 percent face the same predicament.
“It is a sorry state of affairs especially for Ohangwena. Also, Opuwo in the Kunene Region faces the same problem,” Hamata added.
Director of Health in the Kunene Region Linda Nambundunga confirmed that toilet facilities are lacking in her region with open defecation being the predominant norm.
Areas mostly affected include Epupa constituency and Okangwati area.
Cholera in the Kunene had until last Friday killed 18 people. However, there are no in-patients at health facilities in Kunene, Nambundunga said.
In the short term, Dr Hamata suggests that by the next rainy season Government together with stakeholders should ensure that water purification sachets are distributed in advance for people to drink purified water.
“We should also educate people in building pit latrines together with the help of health directors,” he added.
He said that regional councillors should mobilize resources and ensure that their people build toilet facilities.
“It is unprofessional to see that people are helping themselves behind bushes,” said Dr Hamata.
Dr Hamata said in the long term, people should be provided with piped water within walking distances.
Nambundunga says through the Ministry of Health and Social Services they are running a sanitation programme.
She however cited lack of transport as another stumbling block in efforts to reach out to communities and share information on sanitation.
“We need a 4X4 vehicle for the kind of terrain. Currently, out teams are using a TB vehicle to go for assessment in areas where cases (cholera) are reported,” said Nambundunga.
Malaria cases also remain high in northern Namibia with 27 deaths in three regions by last Friday.
The Omusati Region on Friday had a record 3 201 cases with 10 deaths, while Ohangwena a week ago had 345 cases with 13 deaths.
In Oshana, four people have died with 354 cases reported by last week.
“Malaria cases are more or less the same as last year around this time but it is possible that more cases will be recorded this year due to floods,” Dr Hamata said.
Water levels have started receding, Dr Hamata said.