Namibia is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, but income is unevenly distributed with about half of the country’s 2.3 million citizens living below the poverty line.
Namibia has a better healthcare system than many other African countries, physician density is only 0.37 per 1,000 inhabitants. The majority of trained clinicians work in cities and other urban centers. Mobile clinics do operate in rural locations, but access and quality of service varies widely.
HIV/AIDS has been the leading killer in Namibia since 1996, accounting for some 51 percent of all deaths annually. TB, malaria, and other infectious diseases are also major causes of mortality and morbidity, as are perinatal conditions. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are increasingly prevalent, with risk factor like excess drinking, smoking, and obesity on the rise.
According to the 2013 Demographics and Health Survey, Namibia has one of the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates — 14.3 percent of the overall population. At 23.7 percent, the Zambezi Region has the highest prevalence in the country. Women are twice as likely to be infected (30.9 percent) than men (15.9 percent).
With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the United States Government team in country, AIHA implemented a twinning partnership that focused on strengthening local capacity to train biomedical science professionals and improving access and utilization of evidence-based clinical resources.
Polytechnic of Namibia / University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Recognizing that medical technologists play a critical role in the delivery of ART and the diagnosis of HIV and related opportunisitic infections, this innovative partnership worked to develop and implement a four-year degree program in medical technology at the Polytechnic of Namibia. They also developed a series of in-service continuing education programs for practicing biomedical scientists.
Namibia’s response to its HIV/AIDS epidemic has been hindered by a lack of qualified medical technologists, who play a crucial role in HIV treatment and care by informing decisions related to ART, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of opportunistic infections.
When AIHA began working in Namibia in December 2007, there were only 160 medical technologists in the country and the infrastructure and expertise to train more lab professionals did not exist. With support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in country, we established a partnership linking the Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock.
Drawing on UAMS’s extensive experience training medical technologists and managing an effective medical technology program, partners collaborated to build the requisite institutional and human resource capacity needed to effectively support Namibia’s laboratory services.
Together, they developed a new bachelor’s degree program in biomedical science, which is now enhancing the quality of medical diagnostic services in the country. Partners also worked to develop the Polytechnic’s capacity both to deliver the new medical technology curriculum and to provide continuing education to practicing scientists in keeping with international standards and best practices.
By the time the partnership graduated from AIHA’s HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program in 2014, the Polytechnic had graduated more than 100 students from the new undergraduate program in biomedical science and provided a number of targeted in-service training opportunities to bolster the skills of current medical technologists and teaching faculty.
These workshops were approved by the Namibia Health Professions Council as accredited continuing education units for health workers. In June 2011, partners opened a Knowledge Management Center (KMC) at the Polytechnic to improve access to evidence-based clinical resources, including textbooks, practice standard reviews, case studies, and other up-to-date information. They worked closely with experts from the Cochrane Collaborating Center in South Africa to expand efforts to improve use of evidence-based practices through the KMC.