While government has made gains to address societal challenges such as extreme poverty, childhood mortality and unblocking access to basic services, such positive gains are in danger of being shortlived.
A major shift in the demographic scenery sets up a likely emergence of outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases across the country.
Deadly diseases such as Congo Fever, cholera, Hepatitis E and now Listeriosis have all rattled the country during the past 12 months. The epicentre of the problem lies with rapid urbanisation, which brings great opportunities but also profound challenges.
And although urbanisation can be an indication of economic development, improving access to jobs, goods and services, such as healthcare, if services and infrastructure fail to keep pace with rampant population growth in our cities, the mushrooming of informal settlements are an inevitable consequence. This is particularly an issue in Namibia, where almost half of all the people in urban areas already live in informal settlements.
Major towns such as Oshakati, Windhoek, Rundu, Katima Mulilo, Keetmanshoop and Gobabais all house thousands of residents in informal settlements.
Impoverished settlements and poor access to basic services, especially immunisation and sanitation, represent a lethal combination, creating conditions that are ripe for outbreaks.
The number of people living in informal settlements in the capital is expected to increase to 148 000 by 2020.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services this week announced that a 41-year-old man is currently fighting for his life in the Roman Catholic Hospital in Windhoek after being diagnosed with the deadly listeriosis disease that has already killed over 180 people in South Africa.
Listeriosis is a serious disease, but it is a disease which can be treated with antibiotics. The bacteria is found in soil, water and vegetation.
A total of 967 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases were reported in South Africa since January 1, 2017, with 183 deaths recorded so far.
South African authorities are blaming below standard facilities at the factories as the cause for listeria.
Deputy Chief of Animal Disease Control Dr. Johannes Shoopala at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry stated the ministry is taking precaution to ensure food containing listeria bacterium does not enter the country.
“The departments work in accordance to the law; if products are imported and that product is of animal origin then it is our responsibility. But within Namibia the food safety lies with Ministry of Health and Social Services. They have inspectors who go the shops for inspection. For each product that is imported into Namibia a veterinary import permit is required, and there are conditions such as microbiological limits to make sure that microbes are free from listeria. We only conduct inspection upon arrival but not when the meat is in the shops it is beyond our powers,” he said.
Dr. Liliane Kahuika medical epidemiologist confirmed the ministry has alerted environmental health practitioners on the listeriosis outbreak although she could not brief this publication on the inspection process. “We have environmental health practitioners and we have sent out an alert to the regions particularly to the environmental health staff and they do inspections.
The health practitioners go around to the supermarkets and retailers to make sure that the food that is recalled is not on the shelves. Possible outbreak comes from products that are contaminated.
When it was discovered that the contaminated products were from Enterprise factories and Rainbow product, this is the only time a ban has been put on these products. Other SADC countries have also fallowed the suspension of these products,” Kahuika said.
Kahuika added: “As from the Ministry of Health and Social Services what we can do is to educate the nation on the precautions that they need to take in order to prevent this disease, we have sent out an alert to all the regions in the country to inform them to be on high alert about the disease and to put in place more surveillance.
The environmental health practitioners will have to make sure that the retailers do not have the recalled products on their shelves. I do not know how often they go around making the inspections as that would be the mandate of Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Kahuika maintained.
“People have to make sure they store their food in a safe place; they should not mix meat products and ensure that it is thoroughly cooked with clean water. Also after preparing a meal, make sure to heat up food and not eat it cold.
Hand hygiene is essential at all times. Make sure to heat cold meat like ham, Vienna’s so that it kills she bacteria.”
Hartlief, one of the biggest manufacturers of processed meat products showed no consideration on the current Listeria outbreak in South Africa. The corporation who also exports meat to the Listeriosis affected South Africa has failed to assure its consumers that no similar epidemic from their products.
Christo van Niekerk, the marketing officer at Hartlief corporation refused to comment surrounding how the meat supplier has precautionary measures in place to ensure the consumers that no possible outbreak of this this nature can happen.
“We do not have any commentary regarding this matter at this stage,” said van Niekerk.
Head of Windhoek Schlachterei, Eduard Keys: “We herewith confirm that Windhoek Schlachterei products have been cleared of Listeriosis and are safe for human consumption.
This assurance follows an independent investigation commissioned by Windhoek Schlachterei as soon as health authorities reported the apparent link between the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa and certain processed meat.
With our stringent policies, procedures and standards, we were confident all along that our products are safe, however in light of the current health scare we nevertheless commissioned an independent assessment as our valued consumers’ health remains our top priority and they deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that our products are safe.”
Keys continued to say that the results received on the 8th of March confirmed that no Listeria monocytogenes could be detected in any products sampled across the Windhoek Schlachterei product range nor in its production facility, and that all Windhoek Schlachterei products are thus safe to consume.
“We hereby wish to reassure our valued customers and consumers of our continued commitment to upholding the highest standards in food safety and product quality,” Keys concluded.
According to Meatco Corporate Communications Officer Jethro Kwenani, Meatco does not compromise on the quality of its products.
He said that the food processing industry, food safety and quality assurance requires diverse technical and analytical programmes.”
“Our facilities are inspected on daily basis by the Directorate of Veterinary services personnel before production starts. They check whether the equipment is clean and the area is suitable for use.”