Windhoek could become next epicentre
Teamwork needed to fight pandemic
03 August 2020 | Social Issues
Special advisor on health to the presidency Dr Bernard Haufiku says tackling the rise in coronavirus infections outside of the Erongo region will require robust teamwork akin to a country fighting a dangerous enemy amid a deadly war.
“Truth be told, Walvis Bay and the Erongo region were caught unprepared by the pandemic. Physically, socially and even psychologically,” he said last week as daily coronavirus counts showed increasing cases of community transmission across Namibia, including Windhoek.
The latest data showed that between 21 July and 1 August close to 100 new infections were recorded in Windhoek alone.
On Friday, 14 new cases were reported in Windhoek and on Saturday, 29 new infections were recorded. These include three cases from Havana, two from Goreagab, and one each from One Nation and Okahandja Park.
“I hope we have learnt enough from the situation in Walvis Bay never to allow it to happen anywhere else in Namibia. The country simply cannot afford to have a second Walvis Bay,” Haufiku stressed.
He said to prevent Windhoek or other areas becoming the new Covid-19 hotspots “all our planning activities and efforts in the rest of Namibia must be handled like a war room situation now. We must plan and act 24/7. No weekends. No holidays.”
All Namibians have a role to play to beat back the virus to avoid overwhelming health institutions. “It will depend not only on one person or one sector but on all of us and our collective efforts as Namibians.”
He cautioned that the spread of community infections across Namibia leaves no room for “blaming and political games”. Nevertheless, he cautioned it “should not come as a surprise if Windhoek cases shoot up or Windhoek becomes the next epicentre”.
Since the start of the pandemic in Namibia experts warned that an outbreak of community infections in densely populated and unserviced urban informal settlements could be disastrous. The informal dwellings in which families live in overcrowded conditions with little ventilation and without in-door plumbing are conditions ripe for infectious diseases to spread quickly.
Moreover, Namibia's informal settlements have high numbers of infectious diseases, including hepatitis-E, a three-year outbreak that is directly linked to lack of sanitation and lack of access to clean running water. The community face additional health issues such as high rates of HIV or tuberculosis.
In 2019, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) estimated there are more than 300 000 residents in Windhoek's informal settlements.
Country Director for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Namibia, Dr Eric Dziuban last week said it is essential for people who are infected with the virus to isolate to avoid spread. “But if people live in crowded conditions and share facilities such as toilets and water points, this is not possible in those settings. As a result, the virus spreads rapidly through a community.”
Dziuban pointed out that health facilities cater to a wide range of health issues and it is vital to “ensure the health system can meet all needs, not just cope with Covid”.
Dziuban added that although Namibia has spent the past six months preparing for the spread of the virus “it is not going to be easy and we should be expecting to see the health services become strained.”
He underlined that everyone has a responsibility to stop the spread of infections, especially to the most vulnerable in society such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions. “When we make decisions about our behaviour, we have to decide how it will affect ourselves and those around us. Wearing a mask is a true act of selfless kindles for the people around you.”
Haufiku said despite the challenges and the risk of Windhoek's numbers sky-rocketing over the coming weeks, he hopes “ongoing public health measures and efforts will successfully mitigate against this by quickly plugging any gaps in the response efforts”.
He said it is vital that persons are quickly isolated if they test positive, that the turn-around time for test results is sped up and to ensure there are sufficient healthcare professionals on the front-lines.
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula last week said the increase of cases reported across the country is worrying. Among the concerns are the “number of health workers in the country are not sufficient”.
Shangula warned against complacency. “Some people have started to behave as if the pandemic is no longer with us. This dangerous and false sense of security will further put our country at greater risk.”
Haufiku said going forward the hard-won lessons learnt from the situation in Walvis Bay must guide the way forward. Among the lessons is that “prevention is truly a thousand times better than the cure. When we are well prepared, we can succeed in preventing a situation such as the one in Walvis Bay.”