Is Namibia paying attention to the coronavirus?

24 January 2020

A steady number of Chinese tourists or people who have travelled to China are entering Namibia right now. With last month's outbreak of the baffling, yet contagious and debilitating coronavirus, cases of infection are spreading in China and other countries.  Is the Namibian Ministry of Health paying attention to this? 

Where is the information to the public?  Where are programs at the airport to screen inbound passengers that could be arriving from areas around Wuhan, China where the disease appears to have begun? Those who were not in Wuhan but have been in close contact with those who are also could be carrying this virus.   We have a regular flow of Chinese construction workers, business people, diplomats and tourists.  Are we taking action now?
Are we so caught up in Fishrot, Itula’s Supreme Court challenge, Katrina's appeal, the upcoming change in governments, overcrowded schools, unemployment, and the economic recession, that we are asleep at the wheel about possible medical threats? Do we even have our own Hep E outbreak under control?
Typically in Namibia, we wait until the volcano erupts before we begin discussions about meetings about plans to do something. When it comes to epidemics, being our usual slow-moving, non-reading, oblivious selves can cause a disaster. Disease outbreaks have a commercial as well as a human impact.  One whiff of an epidemic in Namibia can deal a severe blow to the tourism industry and add fuel to the blazing fire of our deteriorating economy.
Let us not forget the Western African Ebola virus epidemic (2013–2016). There is an outbreak of Ebola in the North Kivu (Kivu Nord) and Ituri provinces in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 
These outbreaks were wrongly assumed by those planning holidays to Namibia to be rampant in ‘Africa.’ Several booked trips to our country were cancelled due to this unfounded, yet very real, fear. 
Recall the SARS panic of 2003 and 2009. There were pseudo-screenings done at Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA). At least officials attempted to identify people with high-grade fevers as they entered. Whether Namibia could do anything productive once people were identified as a health risk is another issue.  But at least there were questionnaires required before visitors were admitted to the passport control hall. 
We recall announcements by the ministry of health during that time.  This reassured the public.  The ministry was at least watching for the infection.  The public was told that they had plans, staff and equipment in place to handle the threat. Even the people working in the arrivals hall at HKIA wore masks. 
According to the international news media, the virus is now spreading at an alarming rate. A sense of crisis is spreading through China as more people fall ill to the deadly virus.  Their hospitals are flooded with thousands of people getting checked out for the virus.
In Namibia, our healthcare system is faltering. We have people dying or giving birth in the queue while waiting to see a doctor. We lack medicines for some surgeries or even to treat chronic conditions. Questionable ARVs were on schedule to be disbursed in Namibia due the lack of credibly acquired medication. Babies have been delivered in separate body parts while the terrified birth mother watched the nightmare unfold. We have people sleeping on mattresses in hallways of hospitals because there aren’t enough beds. Maintenance and janitorial services in many hospitals are suspect. Our healthcare system is hit by major cutbacks in funding.  There are not enough qualified doctors and the nurses are overworked. Are we prepared if even one coronavirus affected person enters Namibia and begins spreading the infection? 
Around the world authorities have enacted strict travel bans for the central Chinese cities of Huanggang, Ezhou and Wuhan where almost 20 million people live. At least 17 people have died and more than 570 have been sickened by what is assumed to be the coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are named for how the cells look under the microscope.  The spikes that protrude from their membranes resemble the sun’s corona. They can infect both animals and people.  The disease causes illnesses of the respiratory tract, ranging from the common cold to severe conditions like SARS.
Symptoms of infection include a high fever, difficulty breathing and lung lesions. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection very difficult. The incubation period — the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms — is believed to be about two weeks.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just reported the first case in the United States on 15 January. Taiwan also confirmed its first infection today, and a boy in the Philippines reportedly tested positive for the virus. (Thailand, Japan, and South Korea have all previously reported cases.) The total number of confirmed cases again shot up by Thursday, to more than 300, including six deaths.
The Airports Company, Ministry of Home Affairs, relevant organs of state security, our Embassy in China that issues visas, Tour operators with booked Chinese visitors and other agencies should already be meeting with the ministry of health to at least discuss the matter. 
Information is power.  Even the facts we note in this article could be altered by the time we go to print.   This situation is fluid.   We must not be lackadaisical about epidemics. Better to have a plan and not need it than to need a plan and not have it.  Ministry of Health, we await your comment on this important matter.


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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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