A lifeline for the Future Generation
In celebration of MultiChoice Namibia’s 25th Anniversary, we spoke to Dr. Benjamin, Paediatrician and Head of the Paediatrics Department in Katutura- and Windhoek Central Hospitals, to hear about the impact of MultiChoice Namibia on their life and community…
Why did you decide to specialize in Paediatrics?
I love it. It’s probably the most rewarding profession in my opinion. Of course others would differ. The very nature of children, they are the most rewarding little people. First they don’t pretend. They are either sick or they are well. When they are sick, you can tell they are sick because they stop playing. They stop doing what they normally do but as soon as they are slightly better, they are running and they are the most grateful little people on the planet. I think for me; adult medicine is just too boring. Yesterday was a headache, today is a backache and the list continues. With children you don’t have a list. It’s usually what brought them in and as soon as they are better, they are better. I just enjoy working with children generally. I think I was just cut out for them. I’m patient enough to deal with them but more importantly they inspire me.
Dr. Benjamin, MultiChoice donated six CPAP units to the Ministry of Health, can you please tell us what a CPAP unit is and what it does?
These are little machines that help patients breathe. Individuals who are not breathing adequately may require such machines. They are less invasive, in other words, you don’t need to place a tube into somebody’s throat. They have little soft areas that you attach to the nose and there is a cap that holds it in place and there are tubes that will be connected to an oxygen point. It provides oxygen, it provides pressure, more importantly you can use it for full ventilation because they have different modes of ventilation. It provides functions similar to a ventilator, the only difference is that it provides that at a lower pressure. With conventional ventilators you tend to give a lot more pressure and we are aware that it does damage. It causes long-term damage to individuals that may have been born too early. However, the CPAP units provide oxygen at a lower pressure and protects the lungs at the same time, doing minimum damage. It came at the right time when Government is struggling to come up with some of the equipment that we require, so we welcome the offer.
Does the Ministry of Health and Social Services currently have a shortage of the CPAP units?
Yes, definitely. In fact, here in Windhoek we would welcome at least one or two in Katutura Hospital and then obviously Onandjokwe State Hospital. I was just speaking to the guys that were here last week, who requested assistance with ventilators specifically the CPAP machine. My recommendation would be that they would be given at least two, to assist them in their endeavour as this will make a big difference.
How will the CPAP units enrich the lives of babies?
I think the best way is to look at it is, what happens when babies are born in the absence of these machines, a large number of them die. When I started as a Medical Officer in this unit, we did not have enough CPAPs. We had, I think about, two or three and back then they were not being used because people didn’t know how to use them. With a colleague who is now a Neuro Surgeon in South Africa, we started using them because our senior colleagues didn’t know how to use them.
Between now and then, our numbers increased tremendously, more small babies are being born now and we are struggling to keep them. To give you a sort of comparison because I also see patients in private, I have got a 800 gram baby now, doing extremely well and part of this is because of our ability to provide services to these individuals through CPAPs mainly. That baby was never ventilated even though he is 800 grams, he has been on CPAP and has been doing very well. I’m happy to tell you he’s been weaned off over less than five days on this machine. So we are able to do a lot of this with these machines.
For individuals whose babies will benefit, will be allocated to these CPAPs at any particular time when they are sick. It’s a huge difference for them because we are giving them a lifeline which others will not get if there are no CPAPs so they are left to fend for themselves. It’s either you try and get one in private but again private is also busy, so that option is not even available to us anymore. That’s the difference it makes for one individual, when given that opportunity, coupled with our ability, they do extremely well. The timing is quite perfect that something of this magnitude comes to help with future care.
What do the Paediatricans within the other regions do seeing as there is a shortage of the CPAP units?
Look, it’s not only a lack of CPAPs, there is also a lack of Paediatric services in general. That’s the biggest hindrance. Even if you have these machines you still need the know how and you often find only the Paediatricians know how to use it, so that’s part of the problem. In terms of regions, Oshakati has their own CPAPs because they’ve got two Paediatricians there.
Onandjokwe has one Paediatrician who has been there for quite some time. They’ve done very well. In Rundu, we recently got a Paediatrican, towards the beginning of this year, again they also not doing enough in terms of ventilation, perhaps because of a lack of equipment. I’m yet to find out exactly what they have. The last time I was there they had a machine that they were not using particularly because, they didn’t have somebody to use them so I have unfortunately not visited them this year, but we managed, to at least find somebody who can work in that area. Otjiwarongo, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Gobabis and the South all send patients to Windhoek.
We are basically treating the entire country in Windhoek, apart from the Northern and the North Eastern part of the country. Everyone is coming here and as a result our facilities are extremely full. That puts a lot of strain on the staff members. It also puts a lot of strain on the resources that are available on the ground because we haven’t planned for a big place that can cater for the entire country.
Our biggest challenge is that they are often transported on the road. A few of them don’t make it or those who make it to us, also arrive in a much worse condition than they should have, had they been treated at the point of delivery. Ideally, it’s either they send the pregnant mother to us and they deliver here, again putting a lot more strain on the limited resources available, but in terms of outcome perhaps that’s better than when you had to transfer them once they are delivered. Those are some of the challenges we are facing and obviously overcrowding.
What does this donation mean for the health sector in Namibia?
It could not have come at a better time as we are struggling. I think we are facing a large number of budget cuts. Almost everything you ask for, you are told to cut, so the timing is perfect because we need some of this equipment. At least now we know, six CPAPs will be provided and if we needed twenty, at least now they can minus six and just look for those fourteen. The timing is perfect in terms of getting on the road and getting things done. On behalf of the department and perhaps on behalf of the whole country, I am grateful. I am extremely delighted that the private sector has come on board to partner with us, providing relief for Government that seems to be struggling at this stage.
How will this enrich your life as a Paediatrician?
There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to do something because you don’t have the means. For all of us and many of us, and this is perhaps the bad side of Paediatrics, you take a lot of things personally, especially when you are a parent. You put yourself in another parent’s shoes and it really hurts. So we always want to be able to help and sometimes the limitation is what is available or what can be done at the facility that you are at.
As a Paediatrician it’s another lifeline thrown at us in an attempt to help more children, so I cannot be happier. At least now we have a few more machines that we can use. All of us share the same frustration, disappointment and when something like this comes, it’s really a relief, a much needed relief to at least be able to help a few. Perhaps not everyone but we can at least help some.
MultiChoice Namibia is celebrating their 25th anniversary, do you have a special message for them?
Happy birthday and happy anniversary. Thank you very much. Thank you for being so thoughtful, for thinking of us but more importantly for thinking of the future. I’m sure some of these kids will be the ones to use these services in the future. I’m glad they thought of Pediatrics because we basically look after the future. God bless you all. We look forward to more partnership of this nature and I hope other private sector, or private companies follow suit.