Three speakers addressed those in attendance, keynote speaker Dr. Bernhard Haufiku (a Namibian medical doctor and former Minister of Health and Social Services), Dr. Ismael Katjitae (a Physician Specialist and representative from the Ministry of Health and Social Services) and community activist, Mr. Eneas Emvulu. Each speaker was allocated 10 minutes to present.
With the rest of the world going ahead with Covid-19 vaccine tests, the Namibian population seem to be sceptical on whether to trust the vaccine or not, most people are questioning the safety of the vaccine. AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine through the Covax facility is the vaccination set to arrive in Namibia, those at the frontline and most vulnerable are opted to take it first. Therefore, the two partnered organisations made it their responsibility to impart this informative platform to the public.
As the first speaker, Dr. Haufiku focused on the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines and lockdown regulations. Due to his medical intelligence, the doctor made use of biological terms, informing the listeners that this virus belongs to a family of viruses known as RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) viruses, which are life-like animals, because its components make up half of a DNA strand. According to Dr. Haufiku, safety and effectiveness are the first two factors to be associated with any vaccine. One needs to be certain that the vaccine will be successful in reaching the intended result, without any complications. Other factors such as availability, accessibility and cost later come into play; the vaccine should not be limited, it should be easily obtainable and those seeking the product should have the funds for it.
Dr. Haufiku stressed that developing a vaccine is not a walk in a park, it usually takes a long time e.g., polio vaccine took about 60 years to be executed, however one should take into account that this was in the 50’s, hence the technology has improved since. He took advantage of the platform to address the floating rumours that insinuate that the vaccine will bring about change to humankind, he assured the public otherwise and condemned them false. Based off his presentation, the former minister gave the impression that he is not against the vaccine arriving in the country, he claims that no side effects or negative impacts were reported at the time of the PDF, therefore there are no grounds to deny it.
Dr. Katjitae took the floor next, using an emotional approach for his presentation, he pleaded with the crowd to avoid making a hasty decision and to first think about their elders when making the important decision on whether to take the vaccine or not. Despite his pleas, he does realise that it is indeed everyone’s decision to make, but so will the aftermath. He concentrated on the facts provided by the Ministry of Health & Social Services, touching on the timeline concerning the vaccine and what the ministry has done so far. He wrapped up his presentation by concluding that there are various committees set to manage the vaccine; plans looking at different methods on how to handle vaccinations, distribution, logistics, facilities, and training were submitted. Once Namibia receives the vaccine, who is responsible issuing it? Those to issue this vaccine should have the capability and knowledge to handle it, because it is simply not just an injection, it is accompanied by potential side effects. He guarantees that the ministry is making the necessary arrangements to receive the vaccination.
The ongoing pandemic is known to weigh heavy on most families; if not both, in some families, breadwinners lost their source of income and/or their loved ones due to the virus. Mr. Emvula was present for this very reason, he touched the basis of mental health, misinformation, and the restriction of freedom. We live in a democratic country, so the main question that we as a nation should be asking is if we have the right to refuse the vaccination? A survey involving 40 plus people was conducted to evaluate if they would take the vaccine, more than half answered no; they will only consider getting it once scientifically proven to not have any side effects. The internet can be a place of hope and positivity; however, it can also be a storage of bad news if not used wisely, there are various types of misleading and frightening information circulating online. How can one promote mental wellbeing during these difficult times? Social workers and schoolteachers were amongst the options Mr. Emvula gave, they can listen to your problems and in most cases provide you with solutions. Furthermore, he believes that more mental health programmes should be initiated for school children and efficient policies should be implemented.
At the end of the discussion, roles were reversed, and the audience was given the opportunity to use their voice to ask questions related to the discussion; questions that stood out:
You can watch the full disucssion here.
Written by: Lydia Kalilo (HSF Intern)