Working in the shadow of death
Medical personnel say while the health ministry paints a rosy picture of its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the reality on the frontlines is dire.
24 June 2021 | Health
· Clinics turned into hospitals
· Nurses working without PPEs
· Corpses lie next to patients for hours
· Male and female patients share rooms
“We are going to die with our patients” is the fatigued refrain by the country’s nurses and doctors as they battle for their own survival, leaving behind a trail of dead bodies and critically ill patients, to go into isolation.
Death continues to linger in the air in healthcare facilities, with many only fumigated once since the arrival of the Covid-19 virus on Namibian shores.
Fifteen months into the pandemic, healthcare professionals are still responding to the crisis, albeit with little support from their superiors.
They claim that the health ministry’s leadership paints a rosy picture regarding its handling of the pandemic.
But according to a registered nurse with more than 25 years’ experience, who – fearing victimisation - refused to be named, “the truth is that the soldiers on the battlefield are fighting with no ammunition while their pleas are ignored by the commanders”.
Some clinics have essentially been transformed into hospitals and forced to admit patients because “we cannot send our patients home without treating them”.
At local health facilities, the results of alleged poor planning is a horrible sight to behold as critically ill patients are forced to defecate and urinate in front of each other.
Trauma and stress levels have skyrocketed, with critically ill patients often nursing oxygen right next to corpses for hours on end before mortuary officials arrive to collect them.
“We are unable to move the corpse as we do not have room to move the corpse to,” the nurses said.
On the ground
Namibian Sun visited the Robert Mugabe, Khomasdal and Otjomuise clinics as well as the Katutura Health Centre to assess the situation.
From early morning, the lines of patients seeking treatment slowly moved along like hissing snakes at Robert Mugabe and Katutura Health Centre, where healthcare workers these days claim they have to do triple the amount of work they used to do before the advent of Covid-19.
Nurses have written several letters and complaints to health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula, yet their complaints fall on deaf ears.
In the latest letter written on Monday by nurses at Katutura Health Centre, they complained about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We are using gowns that should be single use but at times we are forced to reuse it. Our N95 masks we have to wear for seven days, even now when we are being highly exposed on close proximity with Covid patients.
“We are unable to render care to our patients such as washing or assisting with their bath as our facility has no showers. It’s sad to be caring for patients knowing they have not brushed their teeth nor washed their face for five days,” they said.
They also informed the ministry’s management that male and female patients are mixed in rooms, with no space between the patients while their beds are cramped together, creating a perfect breeding ground for Covid-19 transmission.
At some clinics, which have now been turned into full-blown Covid-19 centres, patients - most of whom have body aches and pains - lay for days on non-adjustable examination beds as opposed to hospital beds.
The country’s health facilities remain critically understaffed despite numerous announcements by the health ministry that new staff have been recruited.
While the ministry has called in otherwise backbencher healthcare professionals to work 24-hour shifts as frontliners in the Covid-19 units, the situation remains grave.
Meanwhile, nurses at Katutura Health Centre boycotted work on Wednesday, leaving only a handful of staff to treat the hordes of sick patients.
No sight to behold
Now a half-way station for Covid-19 patients, Namibian Sun witnessed the horrible sight of critically ill patients lying on the cold floor without mattresses while waiting for oxygen.
While one man has his bed surrounded with oxygen cylinders, a woman ate her breakfast off the floor and another prayed softly as she cradled the nebuliser for oxygen.
Down the corridor, an abandoned oxygen mask is tied to the leg of an upturned table and one wonders whether the patient made it out alive or went up yonder.
With the advent of the third wave of Covid-19, screening rooms have been turned into patient wards and, as a result, cases are now consulted in the clinic’s hallway.
According to the nurses’ petition, they are on the brink of burnout.
“Due to being overworked and understaffed, we are overwhelmed and exhausted. We don’t even have resources to help make our work easier - from the HGT [hemo glucose test] and HB [hemoglobin] machine to the BP [blood pressure] machine. Our facility was only fumigated once in 2020, even after continuously reporting positive cases, and now treating them.
“We have families we go home to who we are highly afraid of infecting as we are not fully protected at work. We were never all trained fully and properly on care and handling of Covid cases and patients, yet we are to care and handle them. We are not paid or given a risk allowance… We are risking our lives and those of our families. Patients are dying at times because of lack of oxygen,” the nurses said.
Questions sent to the health ministry over the past week have gone unanswered.