Rundu-Kavango East and Kavango West are grappling with a shortage of nurses and doctors, inadequate health infrastructure and hospital congestion due to the growing number of patients.
Health centres that are supposed to provide relief for the heavily strained Rundu Intermediate Hospital are not only few but lack the necessary health infrastructure and resources to be fully functional.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family affairs unearthed these challenges when it visited the Kavango East Region recently.
The visit – part of the committee’s oversight function in partnership with the SADC-PF and other stakeholders, such as the Namibia Networks of AIDS Service Organisations (NANASO) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – was targeted at health facilities looking at sexual reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS.
Kavango East director of health Timea Ngwira noted during a meeting with members of parliament that the status quo has affected the provision of quality health care services in both Kavango regions.
“We are experiencing challenges, such as lack of staff and inadequate infrastructure, and as a result some of the health services we provide are affected. The situation is made worse by the fact that we cannot turn away patients from our neighbouring country, Angola.
“Getting health professionals from foreign countries is also a cumbersome process, as they have to be registered with the Health Professionals Council,” Ngwira elaborated.
With a combined population exceeding 200,000 residents in the two Kavango regions, largely made up of destitute rural people, who rely heavily on public health care, the major challenge has been the acute shortage of nurses, which has adversely affected the provision of health care services.
Rundu Hospital in Kavango East, one of Namibia’s four intermediate referral hospitals, is under immense pressure following its transformation and is attracting patients from regions further afield, such as Zambezi, Kavango West and even from beyond Namibia’s border with Angola.
Parliamentarians were shocked when they were taken to the maternity ward that was overwhelmed with expectant mothers, some of whom had to sleep in the corridor due to the lack of space and hospital beds.
Ngwira noted the general lack of health professionals and infrastructure in the two regions has tainted efforts aimed at curtailing challenges related to sexual reproductive health rights.
“We had 9,328 cases of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in 2015, but that has increased to 12,890 in 2016, meaning we’re not winning the battle. We still have many cases of teenage pregnancies, with cases of girls as young as 13 years old falling pregnant,” Ngwira lamented.
Lack of parental involvement and misconceptions over the efficiency of contraceptives, such as birth control pills and injections, came under the spotlight as some of birth control methods were said to have negative effects on users. As a result of this perception, many teenagers end up pregnant.
Statistics further show that men still shy away from getting tested for HIV, constituting only 32 percent of those tested, as compared to 68 percent by their female partners out of over 27,000 people tested in 2016.
During the meeting it also became apparent that at least two health centres run by the Catholic Church discourages the use of contraceptives, in accordance with its religious doctrine, making such services not easily accessible. This phenomenon had Agnes Limbo MP worried.
“The situation is quite worrisome. How sure are we that people in surrounding areas are accessing these services? We need to find a way to make these services readily available to people,” she suggested.
At a community meeting with residents of Sauyemwa informal settlement about 6 km west of Rundu, one clinic caters for over 12 communities in the surrounding areas. Local residents complained of the long distances they have to travel to access health services, with HIV patients defaulting on their medication due to poverty and hunger.
Despite the challenges, the health directorate has stepped up efforts aimed at improving sexual reproductive health in the region. According to chief programme officer for special programmes Idah Mendai, in order to reduce the distances travelled by patients to access services, HIV and AIDS services have been decentralised.
“We have decentralised HIV services to all areas away from the four district hospitals. We have 25 ART facilities in the region and they are all accessible. We have realised that most defaulters do so because of distance. We are also working on making sure that we capacitate all health facilities, including staff,” Mendai noted.
In order to curb the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS, the region has introduced adolescent clubs made up of a mixture of HIV positive and negative youth.
“We have started with adolescent clubs that are integrated and run disclosure programmes. The only challenge we face is lack of material to continue to train our youth. We have also introduced what we call ‘expert patients’ that are HIV positive and, therefore, can mentor, encourage and counsel new patients,” Mendai told the delegation of MPs.
* George Sanzila works as chief information officer in the research, information, publications and editorial services division of the National Assembly.