by Charmain Ngatjiheue, Shelleygan Petersen and Charlotte Nambadja

THE increasing hospitalisation of people with Covid-19 has led to a shortage of beds in the intensive care units (ICU) of Windhoek’s hospitals, especially private facilities.

As of Wednesday, the number of Covid-19 patients who have been admitted to ICUs in Namibia stood at 54. This is out of a total of 200 people hospitalised countrywide with Covid-19.

Of the patients in ICU, 35 are in Windhoek, particularly in private hospitals, which are facing a shortage of beds.

In addition to a shortage of ICU beds, some hospitals are experiencing a lack of oxygen, which is currently being addressed by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula yesterday confirmed the lack of ICU beds and oxygen in Windhoek, and more so at private hospitals.

He said the number of ICU patients is the highest Namibia has had so far.

Countrywide there are 166 high-care and ICU beds, of which 131 are at public healthcare facilities and 35 at private hospitals. However, these beds are also used for other patients that are in need of critical care.

A total of 136 of these 166 beds have ventilators (111 in public hospitals and 25 in private hospitals).

Windhoek’s public hospitals have 38 ICU and high-care beds, while private hospitals have 43 general ICU and 24 paediatric ICU beds.

There are 27 ICU beds at the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital, 14 at Mediclinic Windhoek, 16 at the Rhino Park Private Hospital and 10 at the Roman Catholic Hospital.

Shangula has described the increase in Covid-19 hospitalisations and ICU patients as worrying.

He said the spike in ICU cases started on 23 April, which recorded the highest number since the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile Namibia recorded 341 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the highest number of new cases since the beginning of April.

“We need to pull up our socks. There is no behavioural change at all. People are very relaxed and life is going on as normal for them compared to their behaviour last year at the start of the pandemic when they took the virus very seriously,” he said.

Shangula said public facilities, however, do have beds available.

He said the ministry has a contingency plan in place to cater for a potential increase in the number of patients.

“Outside Windhoek, only Erongo has six ICU patients. When I visited Erongo last week, I did not find this challenge there,” he said.

In addition to Covid-19 patients, Windhoek’s ICUs also cater for other cases, the minister said.

Shangula said private service providers are supplying public hospitals with oxygen, but the infrastructure needs to be upgraded to meet the current demand.

“There is an oxygen plant that produces only a certain quantity of oxygen that is not sufficient for the whole hospital, including theatre, maternity, casualty etc. The upgrade will enable the plant to produce enough oxygen,” he said.

Dr Ishmael Katjitae from the health ministry two weeks ago said he had to transport patients between hospitals to make the load more manageable.

“Yesterday I was running between private and state ICUs. I had to take a patient from a private to state ICU. This was someone who was on a ventilator. When I got to the state hospital all 10 ICU beds with ventilators were occupied,” he said.

Esme Botes, the chairperson of the Private Hospitals Association, during the country’s second infection wave said Covid-19 patients are transferred between private and state hospitals only when the need arises.

Botes said they have been working with state hospitals since the start of the pandemic to ensure every patient gets the care they need.

In January private hospitals became overwhelmed, while state hospitals were still accommodating patients.

Botes said the capital’s four private hospitals – Rhino Park, Lady Pohamba, Windhoek Mediclinic and Roman Catholic – send patients to state hospitals when there is an excess at their facilities.

‘TRUST THE VACCINE ROLL-OUT’

Meanwhile, Shangula has been encouraging Namibians to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to minimise the number of infections in addition to adhering to set health protocols.

So far 42 088 people have received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccines.

Namibia has received a donation of 30 000 AstraZeneca vaccines from India, and 26 038 Namibians have received a first dose of this vaccine.

This batch is, however, set to expire in June, while the second batch of 24 000 doses received through the Covax facility expires later.

“We ensure that we do not stock more than what we can use before the expiry date. Vaccines are planned and managed well. That is our job. The public must trust those who are managing the vaccination campaign. We applaud those who got vaccinated and urge the public to come and receive their vaccinations,” Shangula said.

This was in response to Popular Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani’s concerns about the expiry date of the AstraZeneca vaccine batches after he got his jab.

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