A call to serve

At a tender age of 15, Scholastica Iipinge used to visit a hospital. While there, she would see how the nurses and doctors did their work; a deep love for the profession welled up in her and she’s never looked back since.

Now a nurse with a doctorate degree, Dr Iipinge is the Dean of School of Nursing and Public Health at the University of Namibia (Unam); a position she has held for the past seven months.

She is also involved in the research programme within the African European TB Consortium that focuses on the TB diagnostic biomarkers to facilitate easy diagnosis for TB.

Dr Iipinge has worked with EQUINET (a network on equity in health in southern Africa) on Human Resources for Health in Eastern and Southern Africa as a theme co-ordinator since 2005.

She’s also a member of the Steering Committee and serves on the WHO/AFRO Expert Group (a group which is sometimes called upon by the World Health Organisation - WHO - to do human resource-related work in Africa).

In addition, she has co-ordinated multi-country studies on Health in Housing (HIH) and developed discussions and policy papers related to Human Resources for Health (HRH). Furthermore, she is a mediator with skills in leadership, persuasion and lobbying.

One cannot help but stare in awe as she recalls how she fell in love with the nursing profession. To her, it was more of a calling than a mere profession.

As the sixth of eight siblings, her parents were subsistence farmers who struggled to provide for the family but this did not stop her from excelling in her studies. Her dream was to reach a university level in her studies, which she eventually did.

In 1978, she passed her matric in Ongwediva with distinction and joined a nursing school at Oshakati State Hospital.

Three and a half years later, she finished her General Nursing and Midwifery diploma, then enrolled with the University of South Africa (UNISA) for a nursing degree specialising in Nursing Education and Community Health Nursing, which she completed in 1984.

In 1995, Dr Iipinge obtained a Masters degree in Community Health Sciences from the University of Liverpool, School of Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom.

Her research activities cover public health and socio-cultural aspects and are specifically located within the areas of chronic, infectious and life-long diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and home-based care among under-served populations.

She has also conducted research in social epidemiology, programme evaluation, health promotion and prevention programmes.

She is mostly passionate about working with youth groups to such an extent that she introduced the peer education programme for HIV/AIDS/TB and alcohol abuse at Unam in 2006.

Amidst all this hype, she and her staff are faced with the task of changing the public’s perception about the low quality of medical professionals Unam produces.

As the Dean, some of her duties include managing the School of Nursing and Public Health, motivating the staff and students to excel in their duties and to give support wherever needed.

Although the State’s health services have undergone huge criticism over the past couple of months, Iipinge commends the public healthcare system and classifies it as the second best in the region.

“I think our public healthcare system is the best in the region; possibly the best after South Africa. The Government is trying so hard to make healthcare accessible and readily available to most of the population,” she says.

Tackling the problem of the quality of healthcare as far as the State nurses are concerned, Iipinge is busy trying to advocate for more training hours for the nurses.

“As things stand, by the end of their training, they are supposed to have acquired 2 500 hours of clinical teaching, so we are pushing to increase the hours to 3 500 for the study period,” she states.

The problem of quality nurses is just one of the challenges faced by those in charge of nursing in a bid to keep the School of Nursing in good shape.

The other challenge hampering progress in the nursing sector is that of lack of tutors in the nursing department.

“Sometimes many people do not understand the requirements for professional healthcare training. They are not just students; they need to be trained with a hands-on approach unlike the economics students, for instance. Our students need to do practicals and that is quite demanding,” she says.

Being in charge of two campuses (in Windhoek and Oshakati) has not been easy, she says.

She, however, wishes to have inter-campus teachings for students to have a feel of all the lecturers’ way of teaching but finances have not permitted that, thus far.

As an HIV/AIDS activist, Iipinge’s will to serve is evident even from the way she speaks about her profession.

Iipinge has also worked extensively with United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), tackling HIV/AIDS-related issues in the country.

She has also led various consultancy programmes for Global Fund, Ministry of Environment and Tourism as well as the National Heritage Council.

As is universally understood, the ability to lead is not instilled in everyone; there are some who are exceptionally good at it that they are found on top of the ranks all their lives and on that Iipinge says; “In order to be a leader, one has to have the guts to address all the issues they are faced with, either positively or negatively.”

Raising two teenagers has not only occupied her but it has also brought out the caregiver within her. She relates how she works very hard to teach them life’s aspects and to always excel in whatever they do.

“Becoming a nurse has to be a calling; one cannot just wake up and decide to become a caregiver, or else you would not give it your all,” she says on an ending note. PF