Unfair treatment of foreign nurses in Namibia

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Paulus Hauwanga

Ever since the announcement by our government that it would not renew foreign nurses’ contracts last year, the same nurses have been experiencing a lot of abuse ranging from verbal xenophobic comments, both at workplace and on social media, as well as written threats and ultimatums by not only the unemployed Namibian graduate nurses, but also their senior employed counterparts.

While it is understandable for the unemployed graduates to feel aggrieved being out of employment while foreign nurses are working, threatening and forcing the foreign nurses to self-terminate their contracts with immediate effect is not only inhuman and xenophobic, but also exposes the insensitivity characterising today’s nurses – unheard of in previous generations. A justifiable move would be simply pressurising the government not to renew any expired foreign contracts and unfreeze the currently frozen posts.

I am not sure if this is due to pure incompetency, poor planning, insensitivity towards the plight of foreign nurses, or a combination of these and other factors, but overall, our Minister of Health and Social Services’ role in this fracas has been disappointing.

While the foreign nurses have been making frantic efforts to look for greener pastures elsewhere, the minister has proved to be a stumbling block through his failure to appoint a new board/council at the Namibia Nurses Council. This effectively means foreign nurses cannot obtain their Certificates of Good Standing – a vital requirement when applying for nursing posts abroad. The pressure is mounting for foreign nurses to leave the country, and yet the minister of health is blocking that movement. Shouldn’t the unemployed graduates be also directing their anger towards their own minister?

It must be remembered that the same nurses helped us when there was a critical shortage threatening to collapse the whole health system. The foreign nurses were willing to work even in the most remote areas, sometimes where electricity and tap water were not guaranteed, while some of our locals would not have any of that. Has that sacrifice suddenly become a non-entity? It is understandable that things have changed now and the country now boasts of its own adequate staff base, but the departure of foreign nurses should be handled with the dignity that it deserves.

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