Since I arrived in Namibia nearly one year ago, I have travelled widely across the country, and I have experienced what we really mean when we say this is a vast country. I have seen how rapidly the roads change from tar to gravel, and I have experienced the added time and skill it takes when driving on gravel and sand roads. I am in awe of the distances people travel on a regular basis throughout this impressive country. I want to particularly recognize the distances Ministry of Health and Social Services staff travel to ensure that healthcare services reach people in the most remote areas of the country. The dedication, commitment, and energy these healthcare providers give to their job is truly commendable.
On behalf of the United States, I am proud to be here today to handover 16 vehicles to the Ministry of Health and Social Services. These vehicles were provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These vehicles will enable the clinical mentors in all 14 regions of the country to more frequently, and more efficiently, visit clinics throughout the country. We just heard from Dr. Bikinesi about the clinical mentors program that is supported by CDC Namibia and the direct impact this program has had on so many lives.
Many countries, America and Namibia included, are continually striving to strengthen their health systems in ways that are sustainable, successful, and cost effective. The program is truly remarkable, has a clear and tangible impact, and has served as a model for other countries in the region.
The support provided by the U.S. Government through the donation of vehicles is a critical enabler for the program to continue to offer high quality, efficient and effective support to clinics throughout the country. The impact of the clinical and nurse mentors is radically reduced if they do not have transport to make site visits. Namibia is a vast country with a sparse population; the logistical challenges of moving around cannot be underestimated. A clinical mentor may need to visit a clinic that is supporting four patients living with HIV or TB. That sounds simple, and the actual site visit perhaps might take only a couple of hours. But now let us add the context – the clinical mentor needs to visit a clinic that is 200 km from his or her duty station, along roads where at times you cannot drive more than 20 km/hour. When we consider what makes Namibia unique, we must recognize the geography, distances, and roads of this incredible country. To carry out their work, the mentors need quality vehicles to do so.
The U.S. government is a committed partner with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Over the past 18 years, through funding from PEPFAR, we have provided more than USD $1.5 billion to strengthen Namibia’s HIV and TB response. Each year, we go through a co-planning process with government and other stakeholders to ensure that our investments meet the holistic needs of the country; while some of the funding is used to provide for the expert technical assistance to strengthen the quality of care, the funding is also used to provide practical assistance – such as the provision of vehicles. There is no point in having the ability to provide top quality care if the provider cannot reach the patient. People need tools to do their work. At times, these tools include vehicles. As the saying goes, “the distance between dreams and reality is called action.” The U.S. government has taken action to help achieve a reality that is vitally needed. We cannot ignore the problems of time and distance; these are roads that must be travelled; and we are proud to be supporting the Ministry of Health and Social Services to be travelling safely, and to travel as frequently as the needs of the patients and communities require.
In closing, thank you to Potentia Namibia for facilitating the purchase and transfer of these vehicles and for the recruitment of the drivers. I encourage the drivers hired to drive safely and expertly. Health care providers rely on your skills, care, and safety to reach their destinations. Thank you for your role, which is often unseen, in supporting health services and public health systems. Thank you to the clinical and nurse mentors for continually supporting the communities you serve, and finally thank you to all the healthcare providers in the remote areas of this country, we look forward to hearing about the visits you have received through these vehicles soon!