Community health workers in Namibia empower locals to fight COVID-19

A woman (R) waits to be tested for COVID-19 at a mobile facility in Windhoek, capital of Namibia. (Xinhua/Jacobina Mouton)
A woman waits for COVID-19 testing at a mobile facility in Windhoek, capital of Namibia, Aug. 24, 2020. (Xinhua/Jacobina Mouton)

In some spheres of society in Namibia, community members are not adhering to regulations under the COVID-19 State of Emergency, which can be detrimental to their health.

“When you visit certain areas, you find people sharing one glass of traditional brew amongst each other at liquor outlets. Some are not wearing masks nor social distancing. Hence the need to educate all,” said Helvi Jonas, a community health worker in the Ministry of Health and Social Services on Friday.

Jonas is one of the community health workers at the helm of combating COVID-19, based in the Namibian capital Windhoek.

Community health care workers in Namibia are empowering communities at the grassroots level to curb the spread of COVID-19. Interventions include the provision of primary health care as well as robust public health education.

According to Jonas, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Namibia, the health sector had to shift public health care efforts to be inclusive of COVID-19 related matters.

“Our work involves reaching out to residents to bridge the gaps. Lately, we also provide public health education on how people can prevent contracting COVID-19,” she said.

The community health workers also facilitate and promote safety and hygienic practices, which are a necessity in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“These entail erecting tippy taps and other sanitation facilities for our community members and making sure that they have running water. Handwashing and proper sanitation are one of the preventative measures,” she said.

Emphasis is also made on getting tested.

However, despite good progress reported, the community health care workers face some challenges.

According to Jonas, fear and stigma triggered by COVID-19 are derailing community health care workers’ efforts.

Other challenges include inadequate personal protection equipment for community health workers, currently only equipped with masks, which puts them at risk.

“This is limiting because we have patients that tested positive and in isolation at home. We are afraid to attend to them as we do not have the protective gear,” she added.

Kalumbi Shangula, Health Minister recently announced that about 333 health workers in Namibia had been infected with COVID-19.

Likewise, it has also limited the provision of general primary health care.

“Due to the pandemic, we are limited to do other tasks such as weighing babies and inspections. As well community members are not allowing us to go in their houses,” she said.

But even in the face of the challenges, Jonas said it is her passion to drive change to fight COVID-19.

“It is our conviction and commitment to providing robust health care and information to address the challenges on behavioural change and adhering to new challenges and the new normal,” she said.

Meanwhile, support by the local development partners complements efforts by community health care workers.

Elizabeth Shakujungua, the Khomas regional coordinator for Namibia Red Cross Society (NRCS), said that the institution formed a partnership with the Health Ministry to address gaps by performing risk community engagement activities.

The collaboration has fostered the embedment of community health volunteers and workers in the social environments they work in, Shakujungua said.

Furthermore, NRCS and the ministry formulated different information material in indigenous languages, distributed countrywide to reach everyone and where the community health workers.

In the interim, locals have commended the role community health workers are playing in the fight against COVID-19.

Absai Kashululu, a national training coordinator at Women Action for Development, said that the community health workers are the backbone of society.

“They bring health services to the public directly or informative manner, promoting and giving information and helping families and homes. They put their lives on the line even amid COVID-19 pandemic to save the lives of others,” said Kashululu.