Language barrier hinders healthcare delivery in Kunene

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Opuwo

Patients making use of the recently opened Ombombo Clinic face an insurmountable challenge when they visit the clinic, because they cannot communicate with the Kenyan nurse stationed there.
Most of the villagers only speak the local Otjiherero language and can simply not communicate in English with the expatriate nurse.

Ombombo is situated 80 kilometers south of Opuwo and has a community of about 1 000 people.
New Era understands the situation is the same at more than five clinics across the region, where foreign nationals are enrolled, yet regional health authorities seem oblivious to the language barriers which have left villagers worried they might be misdiagnosed.

Although there is access to healthcare, villagers are concerned the quality thereof is being jeopardised and called on the ministry to either enroll nurses, who can speak the local languages, or employ qualified interpreters at clinics where medical officials who cannot speak the local languages are posted.

Speaking to New Era at the clinic yesterday, one of the patients Ngunetjo Nderura highlighted the problems caused by the language barrier. Nderura, who had brought her child to the clinic, said she can speak a bit of English, but there are those who are not as fortunate as she is who really struggle to get their message across when communicating with the nurses.

An official at the clinic, who spoke under condition of anonymity, yesterday said the nurses’ inability to speak the local language prevents people from communicating effectively with them. The official said patients and the nurse only communicate by means of sign language and pointing to where they feel pain.

“About two months ago, we had a case of a child, who was brought in after hurting her ankle at home. The child had an old wound on the leg, but since the caretaker of the child could not communicate with her, the nurse ended up treating that old wound instead of the ankle… this is because the caretaker and the nurse did not understand each other,” the official said.

Some of the patients New Era spoke to also decried the absence of an ambulance at the clinic, while others complained that nurses refuse to treat emergency cases after hours, despite being expected to so.
The clinic’s staff compliment makes provision for two nurses, but there is only one nurse at the moment.
“The nurse cannot attend to all the people alone, that is why sometimes people have to go back home without receiving treatment because the nurse simply cannot cope,” said the official.

“Why can they not transfer the nurses who cannot speak the local language to the hospital in Opuwo and take some of those who can speak the local languages to the clinics in the remote areas?” asked the official.
Efforts to get comment from Kunene’s health director Thomas Shapumba proved futile as his mobile phone went unanswered.

Construction of the Ombombo Primary Health Care Clinic commenced in 2010, but the clinic only opened its doors in March this year. The Ministry of Health and Social Services blamed the delay in the opening of the clinic on the contractor, whose work is apparently sub-standard, which resulted in new contractors having to be enlisted to complete the job.

In 2010 Kunene had three district hospitals, three health centres and 1 512 outreach points. These figures have since increased. The population of Kunene is currently served by 14 clinics. The remotest clinic (Epupa) is situated 196km from Opuwo, where the region’s only hospital is, followed by Otjokavare (160 km) and Sesfontein (150km).

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