by Charmaine Ngatjiheue and Hileni Nembwaya

MORE than 100 of Namibia’s healthcare workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

A member of the medical staff listens as Montefiore Medical Center nurses call for N95 masks and other ëcriticalí PPE to handle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 1, 2020 in New York. – The nurses claim “hospital management is asking nurses to reuse disposable N95s after long shifts” in the Bronx. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

This was revealed by ministry of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula who announced on Saturday that 11 healthcare workers – seven from Windhoek, three from Katima Mulilo and one from Outapi – tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number to 113.

The highest number of positive tests results for healthcare workers was recorded on Friday, when 15 in Windhoek tested positive.

Shangula said healthcare workers are at double the risk of getting infected – through not only their work environment, but also the community.

“Therefore, it is critical that healthcare workers are protected – especially at work, by providing them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and skills on how to use it correctly,” he said.

Namibia by yesterday recorded 3 907 Covid-19 cases, with 35 deaths and 2 352 recoveries.

A record of 1 494 recoveries were also recorded by Saturday.

Sadly, 12 Covid-19 deaths were reported within three days last week.

Shangula said this underscores the fact that the country is dealing with a serious disease.

“The major responsibility lies with the public to comply with measures to prevent more deaths,” he said.

CLAIMS OF MALTREATMENT

Meanwhile, healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients at Oshakati Intermediate Hospital in the Oshana region say they are being maltreated by the ministry.

Among their main complaints are severe delays in risk overtime payment, a lack of protective gear, abuse, prolonged working hours and inadequate facilities.

Nurses in a letter to Oshana regional health director Johanna Haimene said they are overworked and have not been paid for working overtime since March.

They also said there is a lack of sufficient PPE, extremely limited space to rest during long and stressful shifts, and they have to wear PPE and masks for extended hours.

“We are forced to hold in our bladder for six hours. Don’t you find that uncomfortable? Who knows what may happen to our health in the future? We are even kept away from our families for months. We have not seen our families since we came here in March. Is that not stressful enough?” they said.

The disgruntled nurses also complained of doctors being allowed to work flexible hours at a fixed rate for risk-overtime work, and that they are given preferential treatment.

“We are being psychologically and emotionally traumatised. No one wants to get close to us, and at some accommodation facilities we get our food through the windows. Something must be done to assist us, or else we will surrender and go back to the wards,” they wrote.

Oshakati Intermediate Hospital superintendent Vizcaya Amutenya rubbished the nurses’ claims, saying they are unfounded and aimed at tarnishing the hospital’s good image.

“This is not the first time I’m hearing such allegations. I have heard it so many times and do not know what they are talking about. They have enough PPE and they are working for six hours at a time only,” he said.

Amutenya said the nurses claim every hour they have worked as overtime.

“This is wrong and unlawful. They have to work 42 hours per week to claim that as overtime and those are the rules set by the government. They are not our rules. They have to work for 40 hours per month to claim a salary; now they want to claim overtime and receive a salary for free,” he said.

Amutenya urged the disgruntled nurses to approach his office for further clarity, and asked them to stop “running to the media to make unfounded allegations”.

A health programme officer who works closely with Covid-19 patients in Windhoek and preferred to remain anonymous, said despite the dangers and risks associated with working in the front line, he is undeterred.

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