Long Distances Hinder Health Services Delivery

HEALTH extension workers in Oshana region have complained of the long distances they have to walk to visit some patients in remote areas.

About 98 health extension workers underwent a six-months’ comprehensive training programme in the region last month. They are the first to graduate from the health programme.

Sussan Ashipala (43) said the time they spent with the patients is reduced because of the long distance between the homesteads.

“Some homesteads are so far apart that sometimes I visit only two or three homes per day. This hinders follow-ups and prevents referrals from reaching health facilities,” she explained.

Another health worker, Abner Shivute (42), lives about 20 kilometres from his nearest patient at Onduru village situated 80 kilometres from Oshakati.

The health workers are appealing to the government to provide them with transport to enable them to visit at least 10 homesteads per day.

“We are appealing to government to at least provide us with bicycles to make our work easier,” said 34-year-old Rauna Mutota.

Health regional director Sakaria Taapopi said the ministry is aware of the challenges health workers face, but it does not have the necessary resources to provide them with alternative transport.

He said the ministry is in the process of increasing the number of health workers in the region to solve the problem as “resources are limited”.

“We know the programme faces a lot of challenges regarding transport. Although the ministry might be in a position to provide transport, resources to maintain those vehicles will not be available,” he said. “That is why the ministry plans to increase the number of health extension workers in the region,” he said.

There are currently about 1 400 health workers in the country. They have been deployed to serve 11 regions including Karas, Hardap, Oshikoto, Kavango West, Kavango East, Otjozondjupa, Omusati, Ohanwena and Zambezi after a successful pilot project was implemented in the Opuwo district in Kunene Region in 2012.

Opuwo was chosen for the pilot programme due to its remoteness, long distances to health facilities and frequent health problems among children and women.

Another 3 000 health workers are expected to join the service in the coming years said Clemens Kashuupulwa, governor of Oshana region.

“We hear of health workers’ successes during practical sessions in the field. We deliberated on the challenging conditions under which they operate in the field and decided to increase the number of health extension workers. This will improve services in these communities,” said Kashuupulwa.

Last year, government made available N$1,8 million to train more health extension workers from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and to send health workers to Omaheke, Erongo and Khomas in the 20152016 financial year.

“The ministry plans to roll out this programme throughout the country in phases. Oshana region this year will continue with the training of an additional 100 health workers to increase coverage and reduce the distances each worker has to travel,” he said.

UNICEF said it will continue to offer technical and financial support to prepare strategic plans and budget allocations for the next three years to reach a target of 4 111 health extension workers deployed nationally.

UNICEF representative Micaela de Sousa said g monitoring, supervision and coaching will be critical for the success of this programme while building a g support base in the communities where they live and serve will be another factor of success as well as the sustainability of this programme.

“To ensure the success of the programme the ministry will integrate refresher courses planned to improve the quality of service delivery by health workers,” she pointed out. “The ministry is also moving towards supporting them with integrated case management skills of common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition.”

Source : The Namibian