Cornelius Vataleni Weyulu, the Registrar of the Health Professions Councils of Namibia (HPCNA), sets a very good example of what it means to be loyal to your profession and get the most, not only for yourself but the rest of the country.
Starting off as an Enrolled nurse at Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital, he stepped up to the plate and became the Registrar of the HPCNA, a body which day and night jealously guards the health of every Namibian.
The HPCNA is made up of five councils which are all administered by one secretariat. These are the Medical and Dental Council, Nursing Council, Pharmacy Council, Social Work and Psychology Council, and Allied Health Professions Council.
Their responsibility is to make sure that all health professionals who fall under these categories, are registered before they start practicing, as well as making follow ups to find out if they are doing what they were trained to do, and this is no mean business.
Weyulu says he is geared up for the work ahead and if the HPCNA is in safe hands, so is the health of Namibia.
Weyulu ended up at the HPNCA after successfully establishing and operating the Customer Care and Public Relations office at Windhoek Central Hospital.
Born in Onghwiyu Village in Ohangwena Region, Weyulu had to leave his parents at a young age to further his studies. He was one of the first students to open the doors of Haimbili Haufiku Secondary School, in the Town of Eenhana.
“After high school, I started tertiary education and joined the nursing profession at Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital, that’s where I attributed the foundation of my professionalism,” he says.
Weyulu continued working at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after obtaining his certificate.
In 1995, a year later, Weyulu was admitted at the University of Namibia (Unam), to pursue a four year Diploma in General Nursing, Accoucheury, Psychiatry and Community Health.
“I have never really seen fulltime study. In the morning I am in class and afternoon I am practising at the two hospitals and clinics in Windhoek,” he says.
After completing his Diploma, he was deployed to the Mental Health Unit in Windhoek, then moved to Rundu Hospital, where he worked in the High Care Unit given his ICU experience. This was the time when Malaria was killing many people in the north-eastern part of Namibia.
He was to be later recalled to Windhoek Central Hospital to work in the Mental Health Units.
Weyulu returned to Unam for his Degree in Nursing Education and Community Health while working at Windhoek Central Hospital.
“I was asked to establish what is today called the Customer Care and Public Relations offices, whereby my responsibility were to take care of patient complaints,” he notes.
He was later appointed to teach at the National Health Training Centre and worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to customise the first guideline for HIV rapid testing.
Weyulu then pursued another three years of study, this time for a Master’s Degree in Administration. He joined the Health Professions Councils of Namibia as a Manager for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Professional Conduct in 2006. He later got promoted to become the first Deputy Registrar of the Health Professions Councils of Namibia.
He later took on a Law Degree at the University Namibia, after being advised by the then Registrar that if he is to be gainfully employed, he will definitely need a legal qualification. He attained his two law degrees and the rest is history.
According to Weyulu, the mission of the Councils is to protect the public through regulated professional education and practice, an important responsibility on behalf of the nation.
“It is the responsibility of the Councils to determine what type and standards of professional education and training one needs to undergo to be able to register and practice as a health professional in Namibia,” he says.
He added that the Councils are tasked to set necessary standards, by ensuring that professionals employed in the Health sector do not only have the prerequisite educational qualifications, but must also exhibit good behaviour.
“They have to apply and undergo a pre-registration process of evaluation, for us to test whether they really have the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to be registered,” he emphasises.
Weyulu says registered practitioners are required to ensure that they maintain their registration with the respective Councils by paying an annual maintenance fee.
Those who fail to maintain their registration, he says are deregistered and barred from practicing health professions for which they were registered, and can also be subjected to prosecution, should they continue practicing without registration, as it is regarded as a criminal offence.
According to Weyulu, in order to be registered with the Councils, one must have the necessary qualifications and be fit and proper to enter the profession for which he or she has applied for.
Weyulu says the reasons behind the Councils’ strict requirements for registration is to safeguard the public’s interest and the image of the professions by ensuring that only qualified persons are allowed to practise.
He saysthe HPCNA’s role as a watchdog, is to ensure a well regulated and controlled sector, which is not to the disadvantage of the public and protects it from malpractices.
The HPCNA head notes that his organisation has disciplinary powers that allow it to caution, reprimand and rehabilitate Health professionals whose professional behaviour or conduct is found wanting, while those who professional attitude and conduct is found detrimental to safety of the public may be stopped from practicing.
To make sure that the standards of Health related courses given at different institutions in Namibia are in line with prescribed standards, Weyulu says their curriculum must be approved by the respective Councils.
“First, before one start training Health professionals in this country, it is advisable that you seek the concurrence of the policy maker, which is the Ministry of Health and Social Services, if the policy maker sees the need for such a course in the country in which case the Ministry may give its written support for such a programme,” explains Weyulu.
Educational institutions according to Weyulu use the qualification standards and minimum requirements of study for registration prescribed by Councils to compile their curriculums. Such Curriculum should then be submitted to relevant Councils for approval. However, the development of the curriculum is solely the responsibility of the respective institution.
After the curriculum has been approved and the institution starts with the training, Council then request the institution to complete a self-assessment tool before Council appointed evaluators visit the institution to see how the approved curriculum is being implemented.
“This is how the Council ensures that the content of the curriculum that has been approved and is the one that is being imparted on the students,” says Weyulu.
He highlights that the curriculum sometimes gets processed well but fail at the implementation level.
“We don’t normally give full approval after the first evaluation. The training institution is given a provisional approval in order to sort out identified shortcomings within a specified period of time. Should the institution demonstrates unwillingness to comply, provisional approval may be removed, in which case persons graduating from such a training programme will not be registered and allowed to practice such profession in Namibia” he says.
In a case where graduates come from outside Namibia seeking registration to practice in the country, their qualifications, knowledge skills and competencies have to be tested against the prescribed requirements of the Councils.
The same applies to Namibians who to study at universities in other countries. According Weyulu, the Councils being the extended arm of government, has reached consensus with the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) and the Ministry of Education in identifying international universities whose standards of education are comparable with Namibian standards to avoid mismatches.
“We are planning to put them on our website and that of the two Ministries so that people may know which universities to attend, to avoid them having sub-standard qualifications,” he said.
Weyulu said the Councils were working hard to ensure that all the right procedures are being followed by those practicing registrable health professions as well as those who offer training in such professions.
However, he says the Councils rely on the public members for feedback on how registered practitioners are serving them.
On the on-going confusion at the Unam School of Medicine, he says the Medical and Dental Council has been playing its part and it will continue to do so.
“It’s a national project, therefore, our approach should be seen to be building, rather than bringing it down, we would not address issues in the public to affect the morale of students so that they feel this is not good enough,” he asserts.
Weyulu said despite its efforts to put the right systems in place, the Councils are meeting a number of challenges, the biggest being the shortage of health professionals in Namibia, particularly specialists in certain categories.
In addition, the Secretariat of Councils is facing its own internal lack of human resources to help deal with the issues that it handles regularly.
“The other challenge is having a small population of health experts. So in some instances the Councils needs to request for expert opinions on alleged professional negligence from other countries. Although such expert opinions are independent and objective, they can be costly,” he says.
Weyulu also believes the public is not aware of the HPCNA’s existence and says a lot of publicity needs to carried out to let them know where and how to report cases of malpractice.
The visionary leader in the making envisions a statutory body that is capable of delivering on its mandate and dealing with public complaints effectively and efficiently.
“If it’s about registration we must have a very short turnaround time. There must be a fast tracked route to deal with complaints,” he says.
In addition he looks forward to a Council that is not only limited to Windhoek, but one whose presence will be felt throughout Namibia.
“I also want a Council that plays a major role in trying to mentor the young generation of professionals to realise that it’s not all about what you can earn in a profession, but the passion of professionalism and caring for others,” says Weyulu.
He commendedthe Parliament of Namibia for creating health professional bodies that are independent and through which health professionals have an absolute say on matters concerning their professions, but at the same time, empowering such bodies with a mandate to protect the public against the same health professionals.
Weyulu’s words of advice to young Namibians are that they should take up the challenge and become health professionals to improve the health system in Namibia.
“Do not only be attracted by the status of being called a doctor, it’s tough to be one, the demand is very high and be truly professional,” he warns. PF