At least 60 children are being admitted and treated for malnutrition at the Katutura Intermediate Hospital on a monthly basis, it was revealed.
“The majority are from Windhoek. But there are a few cases referred from the regions. At least 80 percent are from Windhoek,” said Dr Wilson Benjamin, a medical doctor at the hospital during a brief conversation with Graca Machel, the Global Child Rights advocate.
At the hospital, Machel was accompanied by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Pakkala, as well as UNICEF country representative Micaela Marques de Sousa and dignitaries from the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
The health ministry says anaemia among children is 47.5 percent, anaemia among women stands at 20.7 percent, stunting stands at 24 percent and the exclusive breastfeeding rate is at 48.5 percent.
Benjamin explained that although most children recover well there are relapses and increased risks of children in that ward to pick up other diseases because they stay for as long as six months in some instances.
This, he explained, is because parents are rehabilitated mainly by being taught how to prepare meals while children are kept in the ward to regain weight.
“They come, they go home and few of them will come back again. The longer they stay here they pick up diseases. The majority of the children here are no longer sick, they just need rehabilitation and part of the reason we keep them here is because mothers are not breastfeeding their children,” said the doctor.
In response, Machel who is the wife of late South African President Nelson Mandela said teaching mothers how to prepare nutritious meals should be done at community level by non-governmental organisations including faith-based organisations.
“Your business is to treat patients but when it comes to how to improve eating habits and improve malnutrition that is community work,” said Machel, who added that health professionals should rather identify and keep records on where malnourished children come from.
“So that it is established where the problem is. Then you understand which community has a problem,” said Machel, explaining that there should be mechanisms for hospitals and communities to work together regarding rehabilitation.
Machel is in the country to support government’s ongoing efforts to reduce malnutrition among children as well as accelerating the realisation of children’s rights.
Machel also had the opportunity to interact briefly with medical interns urging them to consider specialising in paediatrics.
The choice to specialise in paediatrics will in the long run help the children of Namibia, said Machel, who also interacted passionately with the sick children in the paediatric ward.
In as much as there is a need for health facilities and in particular a paediatrics hospital, Machel emphasised on the need to train health professionals in paediatrics, saying when the human capacity is addressed, establishing buildings will not be a problem.
Machel further implored medical interns to extend their services to rural areas because that is where the problems are.
“I’m a rural lady and I know the challenges of rural areas. That is where the major problems are. You need to go there where the source of the problem is,” Machel said.