Shortage of specialists threatens public health sector

Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Juliet Kavetuna, has revealed that Government’s failure to train essential specialist medical technicians to operate special machines has seen the state failing to acquire the essential equipment at referral hospitals.

Government has now been left to hire such services from private hospitals incurring heavy expenses in the way.
Speaking to Prime Focus Magazine, Kavetuna says, “the reason why people would find a broken X-ray machine or only two CT scan machines is because there is no one who has been trained to operate them. Even if we decide to buy more machines we need people like a physiographist to operate a certain machine, not just anybody,” she says.

“At first people used to complain about hospitals not having enough doctors and we increased (the number of) doctors in hospitals. We don’t just need general practitioners in the country we also need specialists. Government is in the process of sending preparing to send students abroad for specialised training once they have completed studying medicine.” the Deputy Minister explains.

She adds: “In addition to increasing the availability of nurses in hospitals, government has recently received 80 nurses from Zimbabwe that are currently working in different hospitals.”
Kavetuna says that ensuring that hospitals have enough medical equipment will not happen overnight and that there is little government can do other than to encourage students to focus more on becoming specialists in the fields of medicine.

“People used to complain about working long hours because there are not enough staff, so we decided to get extra nurses to fill that gap and we have also identified basic equipment that would be made available for each clinic and hospital to make sure that people do not have to travel long distances for a scan,” she says.

“We are happy with Oshakati hospital. They don’t send people to Windhoek anymore because we have supplied them with basic machines. If they are sending people, it is for cases that they cannot handle and we are hoping that, with the current planning, we will make sure that every health centre has basic machinery like sonars,” she adds.

While lauding the progress made, Kavetuna admits that the Oshakati State Hospital has, in the past, struggled with a lack of medical equipment, such as fluoroscopy tools, ultrasound, EGG, ECHO, mammography machines and many others. Much to her delight however, the hospital has shown a slide of improvement with the medical establishment set to be furnished with MRI machines in the near future.
The Deputy Minister, who believes that by 2030 the health sector would have made a huge turnaround, explains that machines are expensive and cost up to N$15 million, which sees government spending a lot of money for the procurement of these goods.

“Places like the Katutura hospital were built for a certain amount of people. However, as years go by, the demand became higher. That is why you would find a lot of broken equipment or one X-ray department only because there is not enough space,” Kavetuna explains.

“It is not that there is no money to buy new machines but once those machines break, it will still cause a lot of money to repair them because we do not have people that are trained to fix them, which means that it will still cost us a lot of money to send them out to foreign countries for repair but fixing is not really a huge problem.”
Although there are many challenges, Kavetuna remains optimistic that the health sector will improve, even though it might be a long process that requires patience.

“We are getting there. If we have managed to get more nurses and doctors in the country, then we will manage to get the necessary medical equipment. However, people lose interest in studying further after they complete their required years for a specific course, especially when they have been studying abroad for many years. When they come back, they want to settle down and start their families and just be a general practitioner, it also depends on the interest of people,” she says.

As a result of the evident skills deficit in the health sector, the Ministry of Health and Social services will consider motivating young Namibians to further their studies to specialise in the demanded professions that would close the gap and fill the void of specialists in the country.