Doctor Shortage Aersely Affects Patients

Zambezi is faced with a serious shortage of doctors, that takes about two to three days or more for a patient to see a doctor.

Currently there are only four state employed doctors responsible for over 70 000 people believed to be wholly dependant on state hospitals, as they have no access to private medical schemes.

This gives an average doctor – patient ratio of over 1 700 patients per doctor and this figure could even be higher when those with no access to private medical assistance in urban areas are included. Zambezi has four private doctors for a population well in excess of 90 000.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) stipulates a minimum doctoratient ratio of 1:1000.

The Zambezi Region has a population of over 90 000 according to the latest census regional profile, with about 69 percent of the population said to living in rural areas. The shortage crisis has been aggravated by the recent resignation of two senior doctors who are said to have gone for greener pastures. As if that was not enough, the six Cuban doctors attached to Katima Mulilo district hospital returned to Cuba, following the expiry of their contracts. According to information obtained from the hospital, the full doctor staff compliment should be at least 8 doctors for the hospital to adequately function.

The situation is so severe that when an emergency occurs, such as a surgical procedure in the theatre, which requires about three doctors to perform, the OPD is left with one doctor required to single-handedly attend to hordes of patients.

A patient who was in the long queue for more than five hours and wanted to remain anonymous, bemoaned the slow pace of treatment, adding that patients with serious ailments could die while waiting for medical help. “I arrived here early in the morning with many others, but up to now we have not seen the doctor.

We were told he is coming and that we should continue waiting. Over five hours has now passed. Some people keep coming here even for days. I was referred to the hospital from a clinic as I was told my blood pressure is very high,” complained the patient who requested anonimity.

Another patient who claims not to have seen a doctor in two days and sat in the middle of the lengthy queue, said it appears there was only one doctor attending to patients, given the hours they had spent at the hospital waiting for treatment. “There’s only one doctor here. We have waited for two days now, some even three days,” said the patient who also asked for anonimity.

Acting Regional Health Director for Zambezi region, Agnes Mwilima said the situation has been made worse by the recent resignation of two doctors and the end of contract of Cuban doctors that were deployed at the hospital.

“Two doctors resigned and they gave varied reasons for their resignations. We had about eight doctors in total plus five extra Cuban doctors. The contract for Cuban doctors expired and they returned to their country, but the position of Chief Medical Officer, which was occupied by one of the doctors who resigned, has been filled,” she explained.

Mwilima conceded the hospital is overwhelmed with patients due to the acute shortage.

“If there’s an emergency in the theatre it means the OPD would be overburdened, as only one doctor would attend there because three doctors are required in the theatre,” she stated.

Mwilima was, however, hopeful that the upgrading of the hospital to an intermediate hospital in the near future would help avert the problem in the long run. “Katima is currently a district hospital. Even the doctors we have are not specialists. Our patients are often referred to Rundu. There’s still a need to train doctors and have all the facilities in place before the hospital is upgraded. The ministry is currently doing that,” noted Mwilima.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social services, Esther Paulus, downplayed the crisis stating it was a common problem prevalent everywhere in the country.

She noted as part of the ministry’s efforts to ease the crisis, it has started sending students for medical studies. “This is common everywhere and we have four doctors in Katima. There’s a need for more doctors though. We have tried to employ foreign doctors through our multilateral and bilateral agreements, but that process has been very slow. We recently received 21 pharmacists from Ethiopia. As part of our long term strategies, we have sent Namibian students for medical studies,” Paulus explained.

She urged those with minor ailments to seek medical help from clinics and other health centres in order to lessen the burden experienced by doctors. “We have to work with the available resources. Public members can still use the nearest clinics where we have nurses for simple illnesses,” she aised patients.

It was not clear if there have been any deaths related to the shortage of doctors in the region.

Two months ago, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, revealed that more than 30 district hospitals in the country do not have a single Namibian doctor or pharmacist employed by the government.

The country instead relies heavily on expatriates.

A medical school was recently established with health training centres rolled out countrywide.

Source : New Era