Vaccines are essential

Namibia must wage another liberation struggle to fight COVID-19. The enemy destroying lives in the Land of the Brave is no longer the apartheid army, Koevoets, or Imperial Schutztruppen, but COVID-19 and its variants. Vaccines will win the war; the government must arm the Namibian people with immediate effect.

Namibia’s nearly 4,800 coronavirus cases last week is the highest rate in the world for that period. In the pandemic’s first wave last year, our country suffered less than 1,000 deaths, placing us on a list of one of the least affected countries in the world at that time. Those days are over. Total COVID deaths in March 2021 were 513. As of July 3, they were 1,883.

Of the 2.5 million people in Namibia, only 155,000 vaccine doses have been given. Only 27,539 people are fully vaccinated, meaning only 1.1 percent of the population have received the doses necessary to fight against COVID.

It is time to begin a conversation about whether Namibia’s existence is under threat. Government must direct all resources -budgeted or not- to obtaining the vaccine. Does our government have the willingness and capacity to push aside every other priority to import enough vaccines to inoculate its citizens? There must be no discussion of state funerals, infrastructure projects, government cars or any other office perks. Government salaries must be temporarily reduced to finance doses of the vaccine.

The state health procurement system has been on the edge of free fall since the dark days before independence until now. Under the pressure of precipitously rising COVID cases, there is insufficient oxygen, medical equipment, medicines, health personnel, and available beds in hospitals. There are no support systems for those isolating at home after testing positive for the pandemic. We listen to political speeches saying that the meteoric increase in pandemic cases is the cause of the breakdown of the state healthcare system and the loss of lives. That is not the entire truth. Let us not pretend that all was well in Namibia’s state healthcare system before the pandemic hit last year.

Some of our people’s refusal to accept changes to cultural and traditional activities have increased infection rates. Young people with their parties and a penned-up desire for in-person social interaction have dispersed the pandemic. Public culpability for the spread of COVID cannot be denied but must not be overplayed. The people are not to blame for the government’s inability to procure vaccines.

Namibia has received beds, masks, and hospital supplies from the Federal Republic of Germany. India, the USA, and China have sent doses of vaccines, and the nation is grateful. Namibia is a part of the UN’s COVAX program. Through the Ministry of Health, vaccines have trickled into the arms of a lucky few.

Namibia has been at war with COVID for over 18 months and must beg others for enough bullets to fight it. How does a sovereign nation depend on charity to wage war?

Speeches at the funerals of pandemic victims are insulting when all that can be done to obtain more vaccines is not being done.

Grieving families are unable to mourn traditionally or travel to support relatives and friends living with fear and bereavement. Patients needing other non-pandemic related emergency services are being pushed aside as their care is delayed or denied. Religious leaders are overwhelmed by the demand for funerals and spiritual care. Omaheke and other mortuaries around the country are at capacity and cannot receive bodies. Breadwinners are dying or out sick. People already financially knocked down in round one of the COVID restrictions in 2020 are again locked down and left with limited income generating avenues. Namibia has no social safety net to help families and businesses in trouble due to the pandemic. Without the vaccine, the social and financial crisis will only deepen.

In the early days of the worldwide pandemic in 2020, Europe, Asia, and the Americas grappled with the disease; they buried or hospitalized millions of their people. They scrambled overall barriers and succeeded in finding a vaccine. Fast-forward a year. Most of the countries hardest hit are removing their masks, lifting their lockdowns, and beginning to travel again. Namibia is being dragged into COVID’s trapdoor spider-like hidden nest. The government isn’t fighting hard enough to get the vaccines that will prevent us from being consumed.

Namibia must mobilize maximum and insistent diplomatic efforts to obtain as many correct dosages of the COVID vaccine as possible. Programs to enforce vaccinations of civil servants, medical and security personnel, and food services providers must be the top priority. Our embassies must beat on the doors of vaccine factories to get doses sent to Namibia. Countries with unused doses that are not expired must be convinced to send those to Namibia for immediate use. Bussing our people to airports to emergency vaccine stations to take the injections as soon as they arrive could be part of a national emergency response plan. Decision-makers must think outside of the box and do things not done before to save the nation and save lives.

Other countries’ citizens debate about the efficiency of vaccines by Bharat Biotech, Sputnik V, Sinopharm and Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson. In Namibia, we have no luxury of enjoying such comparisons. Are we working with Cuba to receive their new Soberana and Abdala vaccines? We need safe vaccines as quickly as possible for as many as possible.

We must chase oxygen cylinders and surplus medical supplies no longer required by our development partners to address day-to-day emergency medical needs. Overwhelmed hospitals are making decisions about who lives and who dies because there are insufficient medicines and supplies. Securing vaccines must be the top focus for our government.

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