WALVIS BAY- It is a Wednesday morning at the Kuisebmund Health Centre and Shirleyn Awases is among the 20 women seeking antenatal care services at the facility.
The 31-year recently had a miscarriage and not long before that she delivered a stillborn baby. This time around, the mother of a 10 -year is expecting yet another baby.
And, while she is nervous about what could go wrong, Awases is also hopeful that with the recently donated ultrasound machine to the Kuisebmund Health Centre, the doctor would be able to better detect any abnormalities during her pregnancy with this technology.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) with financial support amounting to US$ 270 000 (approximately N$ 4,579,200) from the government of Japan donated a sonar to the Kuisebmund Health Centre in March this year (2022).
The support is aimed at strengthening maternal and child health services in Namibia. The Kuisebmund Health Centre is one of 16 district health facilities that benefited from the WHO and government of Japan support.
“We’ve realized that we needed additional support in terms of ultrasound machines which helps with early detection of the growth and development of the baby in the mother’s womb and if there are any problems they can be picked up early,” said the WHO Representative, Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses.
The COVID -19 pandemic disrupted essential health services including maternal and child health services. “We were trying to respond to that disruption,” explained Sagoe-Moses. In the meantime, Awases is happy that she gets the opportunity to have an ultrasound scan done early in her pregnancy.
“We were struggling to pay private doctors for ultrasound scans because it is just expensive. We were also really struggling with that one sonar that is based at the Walvisbay State Hospital. People are only served on an appointment basis and the waiting periods are painfully long,” she explained. This, she says, is the reason she did not seek medical attention when she noticed that her baby was no longer moving as much as before.
“I lost my baby at six months in April last year,” she explains. She was pregnant again in October of the same year. This time, she did not know about it. “I was only told that I had a miscarriage, and I was two months pregnant, “explains Awases. The Kuisebmund Health Centre is within walking distance for Awases and many other women like her who struggle to make a living.
Cornelia Stramish moved to Walvisbay recently. She also agrees that not all the women attending antenatal care at the Kuisebmund Health Centre have the money to seek the services of a private doctor. As a result, an ultrasound is a luxury that many at the Facility did not enjoy in the past.
Often, the women would have an ultrasound towards the end of their pregnancies or in case of a medical emergency, adds Dr Augusto Gawab, the Acting Senior Medical Officer at the Walvisbay District Hospital.
“The Kuisebmund Health Centre is the largest clinic in the region in terms of the number of patients that come here. As a result, we have a high workload,” explains Gawab. Before March 2021, most ultrasounds were performed at the Walvisbay District hospital.
The gynaecologist assigned to the Hospital for ultrasound would see up to 45 patients or more a day for ultrasound scans. The ultrasound machine at the hospital does not only cater for expecting mothers but for all patients who need it.
“The doctors at the hospital were overloaded. This ultrasound machine was donated at the right time because it has really helped us reduce the burden and influx of patients to the hospital needing a sonar,” explained Gawab.
Now that the Kuisebmund Health Centre has an ultrasound, Gawab is confident that abnormalities would be detected early on during the pregnancy of a woman. “I am confident that we will have reduced prenatal mortality,” he said.
In the past, Gawab observed a situation of two to three prenatal deaths in a month. “We have also had instances of women not feeling their babies’ movement. We also have women who are not sure when exactly they conceived. The sonar will be able to detect all of these things,” said Gawab.
Cornelius Nuunyango is the Primary Health Care Supervisor for Walvisbay district. “We have a high population within a small geographical area. The Kuisebmund Health Centre is very busy because it is right in the community,” he explains.
Nuuyango feels that another ultrasound machine would further ease the burden of the health facilities in the Erongo region. “This is the first time that we have a sonar in that Facility. We previously only had one sonar and that is the one at the hospital,” he said. Due to the demand, some women would go to a private doctor to have an ultrasound scan of their baby and they would pay up to N$ 1000 to have the scan.
The Erongo Health Director, Anna Jonas commended the WHO and the government of Japan for the donation. “This sonar really came in handy because according to our antenatal guidelines a woman is supposed to have an ultrasound scan within 24 weeks of pregnancy,” commented Jonas.