Health workers often find themselves in a dilemma when attending to female patients who abort their babies as they have to comply with the Hippocratic oath while simultaneously the law says they disclose such illegal action to the police.
Abortion is currently illegal in Namibia and can only be performed under strict medical supervision in cases where the woman was raped, or where there was incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
This quandary, which was related to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs that is visiting the Otjozondjupa Region to ascertain the condition of its health facilities, often results in many women avoiding going to hospital for medical help.
This has the potential to greatly affect their health and even result in death.
Such predicaments have been experienced by the Otavi health personnel whose pledge to confidentiality is sometimes compromised when treating women who have illegally aborted their babies.
“We have experienced a few cases of abortion and are often in a dilemma when dealing with such cases as the law requires us to disclose them and in the process breach the patient confidentiality pledge that is supposed to be respected,” stated Dr Jasen Mutombo, a supervisor of the Otavi Health Centre.
Among a raft of other concerns that add to challenges faced by health officials in the constituency are poor infrastructure, lack of accommodation for staff and transport challenges.
According to Mutombo, some patients that are referred for further medical care end up dying on the road, or while waiting for transport, as the constituency has no ambulance driver and relies on transport from Otjiwarongo, which is over 130 kilometres away.
“Our infrastructure lacks space. Even the integrated health service introduced by the ministry is not being implemented because of lack of space.”
“We also have lack of accommodation for staff. Transport is a major challenge as we only have one ambulance, which has been returned to Otjiwarongo because we don’t have a driver,” he added.
“Otjiwarongo is over 130 kilometres away and patients have to wait, and when they get help, if they have serious conditions, they end up dying on the road,” complained Mutombo.
Otjiwarongo is still the administration centre of the Otavi health district, where its patients are referred. Repeated calls for the district to be administered from Tsumeb district, which is just over 60 kilometres away, have fallen on deaf ears.
The area further grapples with many cases of gender-based violence.
What seems to exacerbate matters is the withdrawal of police cases by the victims.
A woman activist noted during the meeting that it could be that poverty in the area is forcing many women to reconcile with their partners even in the face of repeated physical abuse as they are their only source of livelihood.
A police representative at the meeting appealed for a review of the law to prevent the constant withdrawal of cases by victims.
The Otavi Health Centre serves over 12,000 patients with services related to sexual reproductive health rights such as maternal cases, provision of contraceptives, PMTCT, HIV testing and counselling and male circumcision, among many others. It has a staff complement of eight and one doctor.
Over 1,500 patients are under HIV treatment.
The SADC Parliamentary Forum launched a project on sexual reproductive health and rights, HIV and AIDS in Namibia recently, which has compelled members of parliament to be advocates for sexual reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS.
* George Sanzila is chief information officer at the National Assembly in the Division Research, Information, Publications and Editorial Services.