KATIMA MULILO – The outgoing Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, inaugurated over 100 primary health care clinics across the whole country during his ten-year tenure.
In addition Kamwi has seen the drastic reduction of killer diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, resulting in the country winning various awards.
Maternal deaths were also significantly reduced from 449 per 100 000 births when he took office to about 200 per 100 000 live births as of 2010. Under his tenure a cardiac unit was inaugurated in 2008 by President Hifikepunye Pohamba bringing relief to heart patients who had to be sent outside the country for treatment.
Other notable projects include health training centres in Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Rundu and Katima Mulilo and a medical school at the University of Namibia (Unam). The latter are aimed at offsetting a skills deficit plaguing the country that relies heavily on expatriates.
Kamwi – who is regarded as the longest serving minister of health on the African continent having served as a deputy health minister for five years before being elevated to minister in 2005 – leaves office on March 21.
Kamwi who spoke to health staff in Katima Mulilo for the last time as minister of health recalled how undisciplined staff were during his initial years as a health minister.
“You know how I worked with the surprise visits. In Rundu where I started, there were about 37 latecomers that day including some senior registered nurses. When I went to Rundu last year and here in Katima, there were no latecomers. I want to congratulate you all. Katima is also one of the cleanest hospitals,” he said to loud applause.
He noted the ministry has stepped up its efforts to scale down killer diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
“The three killer diseases that caused havoc are malaria, HIV and AIDS and TB. We are now eliminating malaria. President Hifikepunye Pohamba received awards for two consecutive years on this. I was also identified to chair the E8 in SADC because of the good reports coming from Namibia,” reminisced Kamwi.
Even though admitting the Zambezi Region has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country, Kamwi noted that with easy access to anti-retroviral drugs deaths due to HIV and AIDS have been significantly reduced.
“HIV prevalence is highest here. But if you recall 10 years ago the mortality rate not only here but in Namibia was very high. The mortuary business became very lucrative. That has changed. Death due to AIDS in this country has significantly dropped. Maternal deaths were also a challenge but that has changed. Mother-to-child transmission has been reduced,” he said.
The 2014 national sentinel survey report shows an overall HIV reduction in the country from 18.2 percent to 16.9 percent from 2012.
Kamwi who spoke at length on some of the major health improvements in the Zambezi Region assured staff that by 2018 the Katima Mulilo hospital would be a referral hospital.
“If there are some doubting Thomases out there, let them see for themselves. We have been upgrading this hospital. These developments do not come on a silver platter,” he stated.
According to Kamwi the fact many foreign nationals flock to Namibian hospitals is testimony to effective health care services available at these hospitals.
“Over 45 percent of patients we receive are from foreign countries. Why do they leave their countries to come and seek medical assistance here?” Kamwi asked rhetorically.
Kamwi listed some of the major capital projects undertaken by the ministry in the region.
“We have built the Kasheshe, Chichimane, Luhonono, Chetto, Mbalasinte, Batubaja, Itomba, Sesheke, Sachona, Kanono, Masokotwane, Isize and Impalila clinics. We are renovating and constructing Ngoma, Linyanti, Lusese and Kaenda clinics,” elucidated Kamwi.
He also revealed there are 15 065 people currently accessing anti-retroviral treatment in the Zambezi with prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) having risen to 98 percent.
Emergency referrals have been reduced from 50 to 33. Maternal deaths recorded are said to be zero in the Zambezi with perinatal deaths reduced from 24 to 15.
Kamwi was however still disturbed by the persistently high HIV prevalence rate in the region which continues to stand at over 37 percent.
“The HIV prevalence rate at 37.7 percent is still my nightmare as I leave office. All stakeholders should work hard to address this challenge,” he said.
He listed challenges as the shortage of staff, an increase in non-communicable diseases, long-distances to referral hospitals which are Rundu and Windhoek, a lack of accommodation for staff, seasonal floods and poor road infrastructure affecting accessibility to health facilities.
Despite these achievements the ministry of health was one of the most criticised ministries during Kamwi’s tenure but he maintained that one of the reasons affecting health delivery has been the lack of adequate financial resources.
“This ministry is very complex. It needs resources. Without resources there’s nothing that you can do. When we were costing to see how much it would cost us to bring Katutura, Windhoek Central and Oshakati into state-of-the-art referral hospitals, we found it exceeded N$3 billion. Our budget was just around N$4 billion, which includes salaries,” said the health minister.
He urged the nation to continue supporting the incoming health minister and his team in order to continue improving health care services.
“Let’s rally behind the new management if we are to continue seeing improvements in our mandate of delivering quality health services,” he noted.
Kamwi who is counted among the most tortured freedom fighters during the liberation struggle also revealed he was working on a book that details his life story particularly his time in the quest to liberate Namibia.
“You all know the story of Kalimbeza, where I was tortured repeatedly. You will read all about that as I am working on a book,” Kamwi promised.