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Hepatitis E outbreak cripples hair trade in Windhoek slum

By Ndalimpinga Iita WINDHOEK (Xinhua) -- As Namibia battles with the Hepatitis E outbreak, hair traders operating in Havana informal settlement in the capital Windhoek say the outbreak is crippling their ventures.

Proceeds for hair salons in Havana informal settlement, once frequented by clients from various residential areas of the capital seeking bargain prices for a glorious look have declined.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services in November 2017 announced Hepatitis E outbreak, saying it has started in Windhoek’s informal settlements, including Havana.

An estimated 110,000 people are living in informal settlements in Windhoek. Of this number, close to 100,000 are living in Havana informal settlement, according to Namibia Statistics Agency.

With the sun at its peak on Monday morning, it is all hustle and bustle along the Monte Christo main road in Havana informal settlement. Following an influx of rural-urban migrants, the busy road has over the years become a hub for diverse business such as car repairs, catering and salon trade.

Here at a salon, Aina Keenda, 28, is braiding a lady’s hair. With only a secondary school certificate, salon trade has been the source of income over the past three years for the woman who moved to the city from a village in the northern part of Namibia.

Since the outbreak, according to her, the number of clients frequenting the slum-based hair salon has declined, citing fear of Hepatitis E infection.

“She might be my only client for today. It has been like this for weeks now,” says a dismayed Keenda.

“Since mid-January, proceeds have declined by an average 850 Namibian Dollars (73.16 U.S. dollars) monthly,” she says.

Business had been good but for the Hepatitis E outbreak. According to Keenda, she used to have no less than 15 clients in one week.

“But now, my clientele is limited to people from the surroundings. During a good week, I serve an average four to eight clients, reducing my monthly income to 1,750 Namibian dollars (150.13 U.S. dollars) monthly,” she said.

A stone’s throw away from Keenda’s salon is the hair salon of 32-year-old Loide Shikongo, who is going all out to attract customers.

“Sister, can I do your hair,” she offers as she scouts for new business to passersby.

“Of late business has not been promising due to Hepatitis E outbreak. So we scramble for clients,” she says

In the wake of the outbreak, people working in the informal economy are facing unpredictable patterns of income, says Keenda.

The Namibia Labor Force Survey 2016 Report shows that 66.5 percent of the employed population are in informal employments. “These comprised of 65.6 percent of males and 67.5 percent of females. In addition, 57.3 percent of the employed population in urban areas and 81.1 percent of employments in rural areas were in informal employments,” reads the report.

In addition, a report on migration by the International Organization for Migration puts the number of workers in Namibia in informal economy at 324,000.

According to the hairdressers, other services offered such as sales of hair products have also been affected. “Clients also used to buy items such as braids directly from us. Since clients hardly come, we barely stock any hair products to sell,” adds Shikongo.

To keep afloat, the hairdressers are going extra miles to provide better services.

“I try and follow up with clients and go and plait their hair from where they are. But even with that; business is not easy to come by,” says Keenda.

“We also offer reduced prices to at least earn some money rather than nothing. I have two children to support,” says Shikongo.

Local constituency councillor, Martin David says that dwellers’ operations have been affected by the outbreak, most of which could have long-term negative effects and may be crippling their livelihoods.

In the meantime, David says that the Windhoek Municipality has rolled out cleaning campaigns to eliminate Hepatitis E and plans are underway to supply short-term and long-term solutions including sanitation facilities in informal settlements.

During a clean-up campaign held over the weekend, Mayor of Windhoek, Muesee Kazapua cited the spread of Hepatitis E to vendors in informal settlements, who dispose water in their space of trade.

In the interim, hairdressers, solely dependent on hair business to make ends meet, say they are not giving up and are hopeful for business prosperity.

“With the mass cleaning campaign and education we hope the area be declared Hepatitis E free. Then we can re-strategize how we can earn our clients back,” says Keenda.

So far, over 746 cases of hepatitis E have been reported by the Ministry of Health and Social Services. 



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