Windhoek-The number of people testing positive for hepatitis E in the informal settlements of Windhoek continues to climb, as authorities now rush to have concentrated efforts to boost sanitation in the capital’s urban informal settlements, equal to what is being done in rural areas.
Yesterday senior officials in the health ministry confessed to New Era that the “outbreak is not [yet] under control”, as the number of those testing positive for hepatitis E continues to climb. The confirmed cases of hepatitis E are now at 167, while 15 days ago, on December 20, 2017, the number of confirmed cases was 26. Two people have been admitted and are being kept in isolation, said the acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr David Uirab.
Fortunately, no more lives have been claimed, except for the 26-year-old woman who died last year, explained Uirab. The majority of the new patients are from the informal settlements of Havana and Goreangab.
There has been a waning of concentrated efforts to boost sanitation and hygiene in the urban informal settlements, because authorities wanted to prioritise the rural areas where statistics have shown them to be in dire need of sanitation.
Yesterday, the deputy representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Marcus Betts told New Era that UNICEF, together with its development partners, have not been very active in Windhoek with sanitation and water supply projects because access to sanitation is “much worse in rural areas”.
The outbreak of hepatitis E, which was detected in mid-December 2017, was concentrated in the informal settlements of Havana, Goreangab, Hakahana, Greenwell Matongo, Ombili and the broader Katutura. According to Uirab, the majority of the new patients are from the informal settlements of Havana and Goreangab.
The health ministry is now putting emphasis on hygiene education where community members are being encouraged to maintain cleanliness, boil their water, and to wash their hands.
“We are also distributing water purification tablets to make sure that if people use water from compromised sources the water is safe,” explained Uirab. “We are having meetings with community leaders to get the message across on prevention to break the disease,” said Uirab.
Since hepatitis E is a waterborne disease, the health ministry is currently testing water in those areas. “We want to make sure the water that people are using is safe. We are even thinking of transporting potable water to those areas,” said Uirab.
For the residents of the informal settlements where the outbreak is reported the ministry’s initiatives are too little, too late. Victoria Nghipewa, a resident of Havana since 2007, was so peeved yesterday that she was willing to show the reporters the only toilet she has known for the last 20 years – the nearby riverbed. It is here where everyone in the settlement comes to answer the call of nature.
“It’s unfortunate that you come at a time when the grass is green – you would have seen how disgustingly the human waste is scattered here,” said Nghipewa, who was so eager to make her point that she was willing to pose for a photo in the riverbed. “The stench that comes from this riverbed is horrible – you won’t even eat when it smells,” said Nghipewa. At night, many people resort to using basins or buckets to answer the call of nature and dispose of the waste in the morning.
Randos Paul, a resident of Havana for the past 10 years, blames the Moses Garoëb Constituency Councillor, Martin David, for not addressing sanitation in time.
But David said the criticism is a motivation to address sanitation in the informal settlements. “Sometimes money is a problem,” he added.
Last year, David collected money that he used to build three flushing toilets in different parts of Havana. “We want to do more. We have to work with what we have and then the government will add more if there are funds,” he said.
According to Betts, UNICEF’s role in rural areas includes promoting community-led total sanitation to build their own latrines. He was however aware of efforts by the City of Windhoek to service land and provide safe drinking water amongst other services.
The City alone cannot fund the budgetary requirement to set up public toilets. Currently the City has asked central government for N$2.5 billion to help develop the informal settlements in the next five years.
Not only do informal residents lack toilets, they also do not have access to clean drinking water. In Havana residents walk for kilometres to fetch water. “We are the ones who stand in long queues burning from the sun. Sometimes we even faint because of thirst but we have to live like this after all these years,” said another resident who refused to be named, adding he moved to Havana from the Single Quarters in 2000.
There are a few toilets in the community. However, the residents say a few residents with means have privatised the toilets for personal use. “People have taken over the public toilets. They claim they buy the detergents to clean it and therefore they do not give us the keys to use it, even if we have running stomachs,” one resident said, with others in agreement.