San poverty fuels spread of skin disease

19 October 2020 | Health



Excessive poverty and a lack of access to fresh water and hygiene products have been blamed for the spread of a disease, identified as part of a larger scabies outbreak in the region, that has infected over 600 people, predominantly San.

The health ministry on Friday confirmed that since the start of the year 10 clinics in the Rundu district have identified a total of 634 scabies cases, including 158 people at Ndama.

The health ministry on Friday confirmed 105 cases were identified at Bunya, 72 cases at Mile 30, 60 at Nkarapamwe clinic, 48 at Kaisosi clinic, 32 in Rundu, 30 at Kayengona, 28 at Mile 10 and 27 at Mupini health centre.

Scabies is an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite. It causes intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The infection spreads by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Where sanitation and hygiene are absent, the infection can spread rapidly.

“The crises of adequate housing, adequate sanitation and adequate water supply to all San communities in Namibia is at the heart of this outbreak,” Nadia April of the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) said last week.

April underlined that the lack of fresh water at the Ndama was a crucial aspect of the spread of the infection. On Thursday the village’s broken tap was fixed after nurses warned that the illness will continue to spread without access to fresh water.

“The tap at the village was broken. Affordability of water is a problem. San communities cannot afford to pay water bills, which makes it difficult to access water if it’s cut off. They also have community pit toilets, that have not been taken care of and overflow.”


In the wake of the WLC’s urgent SOS to authorities this month to address the infection at Ndama, two nurses were dispatched last week. The community alleged that their appeals for help had been previously ignored.

Villager Magreth Schivanvulula over the weekend said since the distribution of medicines and the fixing of the tap, “people are recovering. Things are looking better.”

April said the spread of the disease, which has infected almost the entire village since the beginning of the year, was ultimately linked to poverty, including inadequate fresh water, crowded living conditions and lack of soap for personal and clothing hygiene.

“The number of people that stay in one household can be more than 10 people in a household,” April said. She added that the community cannot afford washing powder and bath soap.

On Thursday, April said the community confirmed that the village’s broken tap had been fixed.


The health ministry last week said among the risk factors identified that fuels the spread the infection are informal settlement living conditions, where access to clean water is limited or non-existent, numerous people live in small houses and personal hygiene products are absent, often due to cost.

The deputy executive director at the health ministry, Petronella Masabane, on Friday said following the appeal for help, a rapid response team was dispatched who provided patients with Chlorpheniramine and Povidone solution to clean wounds.

She said the team also undertook health education on the importance of practising personal and environmental hygiene such as bathing daily with soap, washing blankets with hot water and soap, cleaning their surroundings and frequently washing their hands.

She noted that these activities “remain a challenge as some don’t have water and others no soap.”

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