by Shelleygan Petersen
A FEW days before the anniversary of Namibia’s first coronavirus cases, the country has confirmed the presence of the South African variant while the Namibia Medical Regulatory Council (NMRC) approved the use of the Covid-19 vaccine.
This was confirmed by health minister Kalumbi Shangula yesterday.
“Yes, the results are out and we have some cases of the variant that is found in South Africa. Secondly, Covishield vaccine has been registered in Namibia,” he said.
Namibia announced it had started testing for the South African Covid-19 variant in early January while the country was experiencing its second wave of the virus.
Along with the original form of the virus, there are three variants of Covid-19 spreading throughout the globe. These are the South Africa, the United Kingdom and Brazil variants, but only one was found in Namibia.
“Only the South African variant was found,” Shangula said.
Last month, World Health Organisation Africa announced that Namibia’s neighbours Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, had also confirmed the presence of the SA variant.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UK variant spreads more easily and quicker than the others.
Last year, Shangula believed that Namibia might already be experiencing similar challenges with a mutated coronavirus as was happening in South Africa.
At that time, Namibia was recording cases as high as around 600 per day.
A second wave of cases overwhelmed private hospitals in January this year although state hospitals could still accommodate patients as pressure mounted on the health delivery system.
At that point, there were 255 patients admitted in hospital with 39 of them in intensive care units (ICUs).
Since then, the country’s cases have dropped dramatically, with Namibia yesterday recording 150 new infections, 315 recoveries and five deaths.
However, mild to severe cases remain over 100 with 159 patients in hospital and 28 in IUCs.
The registration of the vaccine by the NMRC means after stringent processes of testing, it was deemed suitable for use in Namibia.
The approval will also help ease the process of rolling out Namibia’s deployment and vaccination plan as soon as the doses arrive.
Covishield is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that is produced in India under licence.
Shangula last week announced that the country will receive 30 000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (Covishield), 100 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, and 127 700 AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine doses through the Covax Facility.
The arrival of the vaccines is expected in mid to end of March.
“We will make a public announcement when we get to know the exact date,” Shangula said.
The NMRC obtained data from the World Health Organisation, manufacturers and some stringent regulatory authorities for use in approving vaccines for Namibia.
For vaccine approval, manufacturers were to provide full dossiers of their products to the NMRC as required by the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 2003.
The rollout will cost the country about N$583 million of which N$484 million would be spent on the procurement of vaccines.
Namibia is once again lagging behind in the fight as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe have received Covid-19 vaccines.
This is despite Shangula last month announcing that Namibia and Botswana were merging their Covid-19 vaccines procurement and logistical plans to have some advantage compared to First World countries.
“We are getting [the vaccines] from different countries,” Shangula said.
About a year ago today, Namibia recorded its first cases after a positive Romanian couple came into the country.
This led to president Hage Geingob declaring a six-month state of emergency and months of first partial then national lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus.
The chairperson of the Africa Public Health Foundation, a foundation of Africa Centres for Disease Control, Bernard Haufiku, described the first few months as the period of uncertainty, saying some people underestimated the pandemic.
During the first months of the pandemic in Namibia, Haufiku served as the national coordinator of the Covid-19 task team.
“Then there were those who felt that what we were hearing from China, with many people dying and with our systems here, we were not prepared and we could have a disaster,” he said.
Haufiku said at the time his biggest concern was the informal settlements as they were already battling with other illnesses such as hepatitis E.
“My fear was the entrance of this into the informal settlements but luckily it seems that the devastation was on those who are moving around more and the impact, as we see it, is not the worst in terms of mortality but is still significant,” he added.
After all that has developed over the year, Haufiku said this pandemic should have been an eye-opener for governments globally.
“When there is a reported enemy, it is better to be armed with guns and if it is a false alarm you can disarm. The worst is to wait and see your enemy then try to get guns. It would not hurt us if all sectors, not just health, are better prepared,” he explained.
Meanwhile, reflecting on the first few months of the pandemic in Namibia, CDC country director Eric Dzuiban said its impact was reflected by the fact the country had a period of 45 days with no new Covid-19 cases being reported, and it took six months for Namibia to reach 1 000 cases.
“Another example is how, at the start of 2020, Namibia did not have any Covid-19-dedicated ICU beds. But just a few months later, the country had 97 Covid-19-dedicated beds across the public and private sector,” he said.
He further believes that the government is leading the effort to have vaccines available for citizens soon.
“We are supporting them in the planning process, so Namibia is ready for implementation as soon as the vaccine is here,” the CDC head said.