Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mobile health care driving into Namibia

In sparsely populated areas of the under-developed world, going for medical attention is often avoided. The trip to a medical facility can be a very long one. The trip could take all day and you may even have to walk the entire distance if you have no access to other transportation. So many never seek help for chronic issues until they become life threatening. In Namibia; one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, a new private-public partnership works to bring medical care to the people with a truck.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Servaas van den Bosch introduces us to the mobile clinics operated by Pharm Access.

To fill this gap in primary healthcare provision Dutch non-governmental organisation PharmAccess, together with the health ministry and the private sector have started a mobile clinic in one of the most remote regions of Namibia, in rural Otjozondjupa.

The project called Mister Sister has converted trucks into mobile clinics, receives medicine, vaccines and consumables from the health ministry, and funding from a growing complement of corporate sponsors.

"Mister Sister addresses an extremely important and often not recognised problem," remarked professor Rich Feeley from Boston University and advisor to the project at the project’s launch in mid-June. "Even when the costs are free, getting to the healthcare facilities is a problem."

In June the first Mister Sister mobile clinic commenced its month-long route along farms in the rural Otjozondjupa Region some 100 kilometres (km) from the capital Windhoek. Ultimately the service will operate three mobile clinics with a budget of 230,000 dollars each per year.

The average distance to a clinic in Namibia is 69km, to a doctor 99km, hospitals are approximately 107km away and for a dentist one travels 170km. But these are averages. In a country roughly the size of Pakistan, but with only two million inhabitants, having to travel 200km to access healthcare is no exception.

Though classified as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank, Namibia has the world’s highest income inequality on record and only 15 percent of its people have medical health insurance.

"Private insurers will only service the insured. We wanted to put in place a system that delivered unified care. Farm workers and their dependants have free access to our healthcare, while for teachers or police officers at roadblocks we can claim the treatment from their insurance companies," said Ingrid de Beer, Namibian general manager of PharmAccess in Namibia.

She adds that the system is unique in the way it brings public and private players together. De Beer: "It doesn’t make sense to have a private and a public system servicing the same population. Instead PharmAccess runs the service, with contributions in kind from the government and monetary input from the employers."

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