Namibia is an upper middle-income country where prosperity is not shared by everyone; pervasive inequality persists in Namibia and only a small proportion of people in Namibia live under conditions of an upper-middle income country. Having lived under apartheid until independence in 1990, significant disparity in health, wealth and in many other facets of life persists.
Economic disparity has improved in recent years but remains extremely high. While Namibia measured 63.3 on the gini-coefficient in 2003 (with 100 being perfect inequality), Namibia improved to 60.8 in 2012. Despite the improvement, Namibia remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, and has a high rate of poverty rate at 29.9% and an unemployment rate of 26.6%.
Significant disparities in social and physical living conditions fuels health inequality in Namibia; for many people in Namibia, realization of the right to health is inhibited by low income, lack of education, inadequate sanitation and water supply, among other challenges. One significant challenge is Namibia’s vast size; the country is sparsely populated with 2.8 persons per square km, making it more difficult and expensive to ensure that people in remote areas have access to quality health services and education.
In at least one health indicator, Namibia has improved significantly in recent years. Average life expectancy has risen a large amount, especially after the sharp decline as a result of the HIV epidemic in 2001 when life expectancy dropped to 48 for men and 50 for women. In 2016, life expectancy was 61 for men and 66 for women, attributable in part to increased access to anti retrovirals. On the other hand, concerningly, instead of falling, maternal mortality is Namibia has risen since 2000, to 200 per 100,000. This decline is also in part attributable to HIV and AIDS; in 59% of maternal deaths, HIV is a factor, as well as in 14% of infant deaths.
There has been high level recognition of ongoing challenges concerning poverty and inequality and policies and programmes have aimed toward decreasing disparity, including Vision 2030. Hage Geingob, elected as president in 2015, has publicly emphasized the need to address poverty, declaring a war on poverty in 2015 and expressing concern that failure to address income inequality could jeopardize existing peace and stability in 2016.
Vision 2030 and National Development plans aim to reduce extreme poverty and the gini-coefficient to .30 by 2030. A recent World Bank report found that these plans have reduced poverty and inequality to some extent, notable successes for one of the youngest countries in Africa, but more action should be taken to make further gains including job creation, a more inclusive economy and greater efficiency in public services. President Geingob has emphasized that “the only true and sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity.” He has two years remaining in his current term (and possibly an additional term) to put these aspirations into practice.