Health and Social Security Minister, Bernard Haufiku, has reviewed that health practitioners would be required to enter into public service for a considerable number of years before they can begin operating as private players to curtail the prevalent shortage of doctors and nurses in the public sector.
Speaking to Prime Focus this month, Haufiku expressed concern over the perpetual shortage of health practitioners in government institutions, noting that many of them were shunning working for government due to the lucrative business environment of private hospitals, pharmacies and surgeries.
“We have considered options and one of them is to say; fine, lucky for those that already are in the private sector but any one coming in from now on must first do service in the public sector.”
Despite having been optimistic about this intiative being implemented before the fourth quarter of 2016, the bill is yet to go in front of cabinet for approval.
“What is holding us [back] is the law which is in the hands of the legal drafters. However, we are hoping before the end of the year it will be out and then we implement the law,” he says.
Prime Focus is reliably informed that Namibia currently harbours 513 pharmacists, the greater part of which include foreign nationals while an approximate 90% are in the private sector leaving the remaining percentage to cater for the public service.
In a move that is likely to come as unpopular to prospective private health practitioners, Haufiku reveals to Prime Focus that his ministry is set to make sure that both the renewal and registration of licenses would be guaranteed on the basis of a private practitioner having had worked first in the public health sector.
“We are also within our legal mandate looking at whether we can make registration and renewal of pharmacy licenses being done on the condition that one does public service because we can’t allow an abnormal situation like this to continue,” he says.
This has however generated mixed emotions from a section of pharmacy owners, and Prime Focus managed to engage with workers and medical practitioners alike, within the Windhoek area to get their views on the proposed move by the Ministry.
“There is this belief that there is money in running a private pharmacy but this is not the case all the time. We are bound by a code of ethics and we do this because of our passion. This proposed bill the Minister is speaking of has been crafted without prior consultation with us and we tend to challenge it. We actually do not know anything about it,” says one owner of a pharmacy who identifies herself as Nancy da Silva.
Da Silva reiterates that the problem of few medical practitioners is not a result of apathy with working for government but due to the few pharmacists being churned out from the national universities while University of Namibia produced only 14 pharmacy graduates last year, some of whom were foreign nationals.
“The thing is, it is not a simple matter of addressing why people get into the private sector. It is not always about the money because once you get into government, it is not easy to then get into the private sector afterwards. Although there is no problem with working in government, the conditions that come with us having to work for more than five years is not to our liking,” says Daniel Shilongo, a local pharmacy graduate.
Another Pharmacy owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, further says that while it would be a great idea to increase the number of people in the public sector, it is not logical to expect established private pharmacies having to come to the rescue of government by leaving their businesses unattended.
“10% is such a small number and we would appreciate if we could have more people joining the public health sector but when it comes to licenses, it does not make sense to require established private pharmacists that they leave their business to attend to the public sector in order to secure their licenses. Yet, it would make sense to require that of all new players about to operate in the private sector,” he says.