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Ground Zero

Thursday, July 19, 2007
By Denver Isaacs
The Namibian

LICE in a hospital theatre room, broken toilet bowls and hundreds of clinic patients queuing for the attention of one of three doctors on duty.

These are just a few of the sights and sounds on show during during a one-day visit to some public health facilities in Windhoek yesterday.

Namibia's health sector, always an issue among citizens, was propelled into the public spotlight two weeks ago by a doctor's refusal to see patients at the Windhoek Central Hospital (WCH) until conditions there improved.

Orthopaedic specialist Dr Alex Skinner was forced to complete knee-transplant surgery in the dark and without the use of any electrical equipment to check the patient's vital signs.

Earlier this week, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) called on Government to declare a state of emergency in the public health service, a call echoed yesterday by the Forum for the Future (FFF).

FFF Co-ordinator Samson Ndeikwila supported the LAC's call on Government to draft a National Emergency Plan to reform and improve the public health sector, similar to the ETSIP-programme established to try and rescue the country's education sector.

"Service delivery at our public health institutions across the country has declined sharply and is calling for urgent attention.

There is a chronic shortage of appropriate drugs in all our public hospitals and clinics.

There is a chronic shortage of health personnel in all our public hospitals and clinics, and the few who are there show clear signs of fatigue," the FFF said.

"The wards are filthy with an unbearable smell and the cockroaches are running all over the place," the FFF said.

"Recently we were in theatre and we spotted a louse on the doctor's coat," a nurse at the Central State Hospital said yesterday, something she says is currently the topic of whispered conversation among members of the team who were in the theatre that day.

"I was just thinking to myself, how can that be? Those coats are washed at very high temperatures to kill any germs, so naturally lice would be killed too," she said.

A visit to the WCH Nurses home yesterday revealed a state of utter deterioration and also hopelessness on the part of those either living there or assigned to take care of the premises.

Windows are broken, toilet bowls and washing basins have been out of order, reportedly for weeks, and litter is spread across the entire area while a security guard sits idly in a corner combing her hair.

"We always blame (the Ministry of) Works, and yes they have a lot to do with it ...but imagine coming in to repair a toilet one day and getting another call to repair that same toilet a week later," a worker, one of the many who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"I tell you, I'll be sitting right here and a used condom will land right beside me from upstairs," another one chipped in.

The two blame much of the destruction of the accommodation block on the presence of people who are housed there despite the fact that they are not nurses working for the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

This includes boyfriends of nurses, as well as people who they claim have no connection at all to the ministry.

"Supervisors can't say anything when someone goes in here. You should hear the words people call them. In the past, security guards used to strictly control who goes in and out. But this new company (Khomas Security) puts frail little women here who can't control some of the men who come in here," she said.

The Nurses' Home at the Katutura State Hospital looked to be in better condition, although staff alerted the newspaper to the fact that water was only restored to the building on Monday, after not being on tap for all of two months.

Staff from the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication were busy flushing out all the toilets there yesterday, after many of the toilets and washing basins had apparently become blocked.

On the side of the nurses' home building, a number of bricks have fallen off, one worker said, pointing to the area and expressing the fear that someone could get hurt.

Other staff members complained about the fact that security guards are apparently only stationed at the nurses' home at night.

In its statement on the health sector, the FFF noted that patients across the country often spend the whole day in long queues, a fact confirmed when the newspaper visited the public clinic in Katutura, next to the Woermann & Brock Centre.

A nurse there said that the clinic has to make do with three doctors throughout the day, although sometimes calling on the help of Cuban doctors.

"This is still nothing.

You should have come last week when we didn't have one doctor," she said, gesturing to the hundreds of patients seated and standing across various halls of the clinic.

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