The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku, on Wednesday appeased Zambezi residents in revealing that the Katima Mulilo hospital is among several state hospitals that will soon be upgraded to intermediate hospital status. This will result in patients no longer having to be referred to hospitals in Rundu or Windhoek for treatment.
The distance from Katima Mulilo to Rundu is 520 kilometres, while the one-way trip from Katima Mulilo to hospitals in Windhoek is around 1 220 kilometres.
Haufiku gave residents the good news during President Hage Geingob’s consultations with the community at the town in Zambezi Region, where the community has bitterly complained about the long distances the sick have to travel when referred to Rundu or Windhoek.
Katima Mulilo residents said many state patients have often succumbed to their ailments on such trips.
Haufiku said plans were at an advanced stage to upgrade the hospital but that a lack of doctors hampered the process.
The health minister further disclosed that the multi-million dollar upgrade of district hospitals across the country will start at Katima Mulilo, followed by hospitals in Rundu, Opuwo and Keetmanshoop
“One of the problems is getting doctors to come to Katima. We have to find innovative ways of attracting doctors to distant hospitals,” said Haufiku who was in the delegation that accompanied President Geingob on a two-day visit to Zambezi.
Initially the hospital upgrade at Katima Mulilo was slated for 2018. Haufiku said other hospitals were also experiencing a doctor shortage.
“There was a time when Katima only had two doctors, after the contracts of Cuban doctors expired. We understand the gravity of the problem nationally and are working very hard to address the issue.”
Haufiku, a doctor by profession, said that as an interim measure he had instituted an outreach programme whereby a team of doctors, including himself, would visit hospitals in various regions to attend to any serious illnesses that need referrals.
“Initially I chose Khorixas to demonstrate that surgeries can be done at a regional level. From 2nd to 5th September we will be in Katima to do surgical procedures, and work on other serious cases that would have been referred to Rundu or Windhoek. This is while we wait for our hospitals to be upgraded and more staff to be recruited,” Haufiku assured residents.
Haufiku further revealed that “mechanisms are being put in place together with the Ministry of Works and Transport to airlift patients”.
The health ministry has also trained health extension workers to teach the rural poor on basic health matters as a measure to contain the outbreak of disease and thus reduce pressure on hospitals.
The Katima Mulilo state hospital is grappling with a doctor shortage so serious that at times it takes more than two days for a patient to see a doctor.
The situation worsened towards the end of last year when the contracts of six Cuban doctors deployed to the hospital expired. For the Katima Mulilo hospital to adequately function it needs at least eight doctors.
The facility is currently a district hospital with no specialist doctors.
Haufiku said with the upgrading of the hospitals more specialized staff will be employed to attend to the growing patient population, but he urged all district hospitals in the meantime to ensure they have proper diagnostic equipment, as well as effective and sufficient facilities at dispensaries to reduce the pressure on referral hospitals.
Geingob’s visit to Katima Mulilo started on Wednesday and ended yesterday, after which he departed for Rundu for the next round of consultations with the regional leadership and to hear first-hand complaints from the public.
• Additional reporting by Faith Sankwasa from Nampa