Imagine that you wake up every morning wondering if you will get to eat that day. Imagine that your mother passes out food to your father and siblings, leaving none for herself because there just isn’t enough food. Imagine that you get sick in the bush where you live with your tribe and cannot get to a clinic because it is more than a day’s walk away. Imagine that this is how more than half of your country lives on a consistent basis. These situations are a little difficult to imagine as an American citizen because a lot of these issues have already been addressed in one way or another for the vast amount of the American population. For the Namibian people though, these are daily realities.
The health care system in Namibia has the unique challenge of supporting a small population spread over a large area. There are about 2.3 million Namibian citizens living over an area just 1.18 times the size of Texas. The state-run clinics are free to the public, but are mostly in populated areas such as towns and cities. Rural clinics and mobile clinics can be found, but they are few and far between, with a varying quality of care. Private clinics exist either as expensive health care centers where the wealthy can get state-of-the-art care for a large fee or as charity clinics that cater to certain cultural groups such as the San Bushmen. Much of the population, however, is not able to access healthcare on a regular basis and thus many diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV spread continuously with little hope of decreasing prevalence or eradication in the near future.
Malnutrition is huge health concern, especially for the indigenous tribal groups, because of their traditional diets and lack of food variety. The San Bushmen females, for example, are very malnourished because of the traditional diet of maize-based foods and game meat and because of their tradition of feeding the men of the family first, then the children, and then the mother, if there’s anything left. This cycle of malnutrition is passed to children, because mother’s bodies lack sufficient nutrition to give babies a healthy pre-natal chance for full development. Also, after birth, infants are breastfed for one to two years with milk that is low in nutritional value; then, they are weaned onto a maize and water diet for another year or two. There are very few sources of micronutrients in this diet that consists largely of starch and protein.
Food security and extreme poverty are the two largest contributors to all these issues, and are concerns Namibia is currently working to correct. The country is only 24 years into their independence and has experienced a lot of growth already. In light of all that we have learned on this study abroad trip, Namibia does have a bright future, especially in the areas of food security, health care, and nutrition.