Breaking the stigma of dementia

World Alzheimer's Day was commemorated on Monday, with deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue visiting the Alzheimer Dementia Centre in Swakopmund.

23 September 2020 | Health

ERWIN LEUSCHNER

SWAKOPMUND



Swakopmund's Alzheimer Dementia Namibia (ADN) Centre is the only one of its kind in the country. Here around two dozen people are cared for who suffer from a range of degenerative and non-degenerative diseases of the brain.

“We have to break the stigma surrounding these diseases in Namibia and raise awareness,” deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue said while visiting the centre.

Dementia is the generic term for around 100 diseases, of which Alzheimer's is the most common.

“These people suffer from memory loss or personality changes. However, they still deserve a happy life,” she said.

According to estimates by the ministry of health, there are around 8 000 people in Namibia who suffer from some form of dementia.

Families and acquaintances are overwhelmed by the situation, especially in rural areas.



Stigma

In many cases, people are chained to their homes or are cast out of their communities. Often, they are said to be cursed or possessed by spirits.

“We need to do more to ensure that our citizens can enjoy their retirement with dignity,” Muinjangue said, and expressed her sincere thanks to the ADN Centre and staff, promising closer cooperation.

“We had to drastically change our programme due to Covid-19,” said the managing director of ADN, Berrie Holzhausen. He thanked the government, especially President Hage Geingob, for the measures taken in the fight against the virus.

“All the people here are particularly at risk. If the virus spreads here, we fear the worst,” he said.



Living on site

For this reason, no visits were possible in the past six months, while the staff lived and worked on site.

“The risk is just too great. We had to take these tough measures to keep everyone safe.”

Holzhausen and his staff said there is still very little understanding of dementia in Namibia.

Various stories were read about seniors who had been chained or were accused of being witches in rural areas.

“More education is urgently needed. In many cases, dementia is associated with witchcraft in Namibia,” Holzhausen said.

“We need to work more closely with the ministries of education and health.”

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