Bridging the healthcare divide saves lives

Wetumwene Shikage
Celia Sofia Stephanus

In December 2019, Covid-19 became something for the world to worry about. It was no longer something that was just happening in Asia. Our globally connected world meant that the virus was travelling around the world just like its hosts did.

As we all know now, Covid-19 spread quickly and indiscriminately, crippling nations like Italy, Spain and slowly the rest of Europe. In Namibia, we watched and assumed we were being spared the worst, and for a while we were.

However, as we look at our situation now, we realise that not only have we not been spared, we are being severely tested and our infrastructure and our steadfastness are creaking and close to buckling under the pressure of this onslaught. We will not break, but it will require a supreme effort from all and will demand a collective front against this pandemic. This virus does not allow us to leave anyone behind.

As a registered nurse and someone who has in the past administered vaccines, I have personally seen how necessary basic healthcare is, how we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

A virus does not announce its plans and see if it is convenient to wreak havoc on a nation’s healthcare system. In Namibia we often look at Europe and the United States with admiration and assume their healthcare systems can manage anything.

However, it quickly became apparent in 2020 that this was not the case. Countries with unrestrained access to clean water, with almost zero hunger, a well-educated populace, with good infrastructure and access to excellent healthcare, were all buckling and creaking under the pressure that Covid-19 brought to bear. Just as we are now during the ‘third wave’ that we are experiencing in Namibia.

The western nations quickly regrouped and pitched funds at the problem; resources were freed up within a matter of days and weeks. They increased hospital capacity, bought vaccines, spent money on research for the vaccines and were able to rely or upgrade their infrastructure to manage the pandemic.

This is what we should be doing globally, but as we know there has always been a divide. The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was born out of this necessity to create a fairer and more equitable world for all nations.

Something that in times of crisis shows us all how unequal things really are and why the implementation of the goals is so vital. It is also one of the drivers of Namibia’s National Planning Commission and part of its remit is to sensitise our nation to the SDGs.

The 17 different SDGs are all interlinked in one way or another, and if all are in place contribute to a healthy, peaceful and just society that fulfils the needs of its citizens. For example, if you look at the sixth SDG, Access to Clean Water and Sanitation, it is imperative to have access to the latter to beat Covid-19.

But so are the other SDGs dealing with providing industry, innovation and infrastructure, as well as zero hunger and good health and well-being. For the purpose of this article, SDG 10 may be the most important of all: Reduce Inequalities.

This is what it boils down to. As per the gaols of Vision 2030, Namibia stands ready to improve the quality of life of her citizens to the levels of her counterparts in developed countries. That is a prosperous and industrialised nation which has human capacities and the financial resources available to scale up when needed to enjoy sustained peace, harmony and political stability.

We need to focus on bridging the healthcare divide everywhere, not just in Namibia, but around the globe. We have seen that in this hyper-connected world, no country or its population lives under a protective force field, safe from Covid-19 or future pandemics.

Without making the world more equitable for everyone by implementing the UN’s SDGs, we will be resigned to relive this present pandemic again in the future.

*Celia Sofia Stephanus is the senior technical advisor of the SDG-I Namibia Project.