DEFINITE steps have been taken to improve the capacity of health centres in rural Namibia to provide more isolation facilities for patients with COVID-19, as well as the provision of expanded intensive care units.
The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, during the 34th national engagement with the Namibian nation from State House, indicated that a lot of work has been done in this regard and that the third wave of the pandemic has shown that more capacity in various health facilities is needed to address a possible fourth wave.
“In order to further increase the number of isolation beds to cater for COVID-19 patients, new projects, comprising of prefabricated isolation units, were completed between June 2020 and September 2021. The capacities of these facilities that were recently completed range between four and 12 beds,” he said.
According to Dr Shangula, these facilities were constructed at the Windhoek Central Hospital (24 beds), Walvis Bay Hospital (24 beds), Opuwo Hospital (four beds), Oshakati Hospital (four beds), Eenhana Hospital (12 beds), Okongo Hospital (eight beds), Rundu Hospital (eight beds), Katima Mulilo Hospital (12 beds), Gobabis Hospital (eight beds), Mariental Hospital (12 beds) and Keetmanshoop Hospital (12 beds).
“Similar projects are currently underway at Okahao (12 beds), Andara (12 beds), Otjiwarongo (12 beds), Okahandja (12 beds) and Karasburg (eight beds). These projects are expected to be completed and commissioned soon,” he said.
Dr Shangula said that the old tuberculosis ward at the Katutura State Hospital is currently also being extended to cater for an additional 96 COVID-19 beds.
He indicated that the evaluation of bids are still in the process to eventually recommend a contractor for the project.
In this regard, the government has also funded the repurposing of a unit within the Keetmanshoop hospital to create a 15 bed Intensive Care Unit and the new facility is due for commissioning soon.
Similarly, a unit within Katima Mulilo State Hospital will be converted to serve as a 14 bed Intensive Care Unit.
The procurement process for the repurposing of the said facility is underway.
“We have taken a conscious decision to capacitate District Hospitals to be able to provide for the appropriate ICU services. The identified hospitals to be provided with ICU capacity are Outapi in Omusati, Otjiwarongo in Otjozundjupa, Rundu in Kavango East, Gobabis in Omaheke, Mariental in Hardap, Engela in Ohangwena Ohangwena, Opuwo in Kunene Kunene and Nankudu in Kavango West,” he said.
The health minister said that the ICU capacity at these hospitals will range from 10 to 15 beds per hospital.
“It should be noted that pre-COVID situation, the number of ICU beds countrywide was severely limited. The creation of additional ICU capacity will go a long way towards the realisation of our objectives of further strengthening services in the areas of surgery, obstetrics and anaesthesia,” he said.
With regard to vaccination, Dr Shangula said that a matter of concern is the fact that the number of people being vaccinated with the first dose in Namibia are less than those of persons who are coming for the second dose.
“It is important to note that persons who have received the first dose have built up immunity against COVID-19 and are therefore, afforded a level of protection. Those who are not vaccinated are the most at risk of severe illness and death. We are seeing this in our daily statistics, as the great majority of persons who are currently hospitalised are those that have not been vaccinated,” he said.
According to Dr Shangula, the deaths ascribed to COVID-19 that were recorded over the past three weeks are almost exclusively of persons who have not been vaccinated.
“Let us do what is right and get vaccinated,” he urged.
Dr Shangula made it clear that allegations on various social media platforms stating that people who are dying are those who have been vaccinated is a blatant lie.
“There is no shred of evidence that supports this narrative. On the contrary, statistics confirm that those who have died are not vaccinated,” he said.
The health minister said that the government continues to increase the availability of and accessibility to vaccines to boost the national vaccination campaign.
In this regard, Namibia is still awaiting the arrival of 15 000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Serbia, as well as 318 720 doses of AstraZeneca from the Federal Republic of Germany, 100 620 doses of Pfizer from the United States of America and 30 000 doses of the Hyatt Vax from the United Arab Emirates.
“At present, Namibia has sufficient doses of the vaccines for the vaccination campaign. The nation is assured that all the vaccines delivered to Namibia, whether through donations or those that we have procured with Government recourses, are within their shelf life and are safe for use. Members of the public should stand warned that spreading false information about COVID-19 is an offence and such persons will face the full wrath of the law,” he warned.
Dr Shangula also indicated that the health ministry is also in the process of strengthening its capacity to monitor the epidemiology of COVID-19 pandemic.
“Currently, Namibia has the third highest COVID-19 testing capacity per 100 000 population on the African continent, behind South Africa and Gabon. We now have two laboratories with the capacity to conduct genome sequencing, namely the University of Namibia and the Namibia Institute of Pathology,” he said.
According to the health minister, genome sequencing is an important tool in the national Covid-19 response and preparedness because it allows health authorities to identify the COVID-19 variants circulating in the country and enables the government to target its responses in an appropriate manner.
He reiterated that all persons within the borders of Namibia should take personal responsibility to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“The disease does not spread by itself. It is spread by persons as we move around and when we do not comply with the public health regulations. Let us therefore continue to do what we know to be right. Let us conduct ourselves and behave in such a manner that we will not experience another devastating wave. The current respite teaches us that it is possible to bring the numbers of new infections,” he concluded.