Over 50 frontline medical staff in quarantine

31 July 2020 | Health



The sudden spike of Covid-19 cases has caught the seemingly ill-prepared health system off guard and has landed over 50 frontline health professionals, including nurses, in quarantine, and out of action.

This was confirmed by acting secretary-general of the Namibia Nurses Union (Nanu), Junias Shilunga, who said nurses are forced to wear one disposable mask for more than two weeks due to dire shortages.

“That is the situation on the ground. The nurses are the frontline staff and they come in close contact with positive cases all the time, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly,” he said. Shilunga also expressed concern over the “recklessness” of some health training facilities sending students to work without personal protective equipment (PPE).

Out of stock

Namibian Sun spoke to a student nurse stationed at the Katutura Intermediary Hospital, where she was exposed to a positive Covid-19 case. She said they deal with patients while wearing only a mask and gloves.

“When I worked with that particular person, I did not wear gloves at all, because they were out of stock. However, they rated me as low-risk with no need to test myself,” she said.

An internal memo issued by University of Namibia (Unam) vice-chancellor, Professor Kenneth Matengu, informed personnel on Tuesday that a staff member had tested positive for the virus.

In the same memo, he mentioned that 39 students from the health faculty are currently in quarantine due to their exposure to Covid-19.

The memo was confirmed by Unam spokesperson John Haufiku, who said these students include various medical professionals, but are mostly nurses.

“Those numbers change every day, because their exposure is due to some risk when they assist the ministry with someone who is infected,” he said.

Late yesterday Unam announced its second case of Covid-19 infection.

'We have never run out'

Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula, however, dismissed these claims, saying the ministry has never run out of stock of PPE.

“PPE includes gloves and masks and then you have the full gear, covering from head to toe. And it does not mean everybody must wear those, those are only worn in high-risk areas.

“If students did not wear gloves, it was because they did not want to, but we have never run out of PPE stock,” he said.

Despite admitting that the country does not have enough health workers, Shangula said he believes the more than 50 health workers in quarantine are not affecting Namibia's Covid-19 response.

“To a certain extent, yes, but we have recruited additional personnel for the Covid-19 response, because we know this will happen. Not only exposure, but they may be infected themselves, because of the nature of the work,” he said.

'Tip of the spear'

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, at least 10 frontline health workers, including a medical doctor, have tested positive and were quarantined.

“For our health care workers, the risks are even greater because of the nature of their work. I urge them to continue protecting themselves with appropriate PPEs at all times.

“You are the tip of the spear in this fight. We need you healthy to be able to treat those who fall ill and need your care and your skills,” Shangula added.

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