At time when the fear of a possible spread of the coronavirus (covid-19) has gripped the people of Nepal, the Himalayan nation’s government has ordered a partial lockdown across the country in a bid to stop the deadly pathogen entering its borders. Till the writing of this article, there has been only one confirmed case of coronavirus contagion, and the infected individual has been discharged from the hospital after recovering from the illness.
Dr Basu Dev Pandey, director of Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, informs that individuals showing symptoms of coronavirus infection are currently being transferred to Sukraraj Tropical & Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku through a dedicated ambulance. “The infected people brought to Sukraraj Tropical Communicable Disease Hospital in Teku will be admitted to the isolation ward equipped with ventilators and other essential equipment,” he adds.
At the hospital, inspections and several tests are performed. “The infected individuals will be kept in isolation in Teku and in case more space is required, the Ministry of Health has arranged isolation wards in Patan Hospital and Armed Police Force hospital and others are in line,” Pandey informs.
“We currently have only four ventilators in Teku hospital for supplying oxygen to critical patents but more of such equipment along with some other essential pedigree equipment will be available soon if required,” he adds.
In terms of awareness, the government has been providing orientation programmes to health workers, hotel staff, airport staff and academic staff about precaution. Health workers at Teku hospital have been trained to deal with cases of infections. Programmes for risk communication have also been proposed. “Our team had held a meeting with the chief ministers and health experts of all the seven provinces to discuss their present state of preparedness. We are in coordination with them and are helping them with the updates,” says Pandey.
Gandaki province has already put aside Rs 70 million for coronavirus treatment and has prepared Manipal Hospital for the fight against the illness. The government has placed a dedicated health desk at all 41 border points. Likewise, a health desk has been placed in all the domestic airports around the country. According to Pandey, the Ministry of Health and his team are working on the concept of a hub hospital as an option to deal with the outbreak.
“Under this concept, we will utilise the space of all the major hospitals in Kathmandu operating under Bir Hospital. Currently, we have six hubs and experts at our division are communicating with the hospital continuously to keep them prepared and ready for an emergency. We are coordinating with the hospitals to manage the isolation beds. All the other hospitals are also ready to help us,” he says.
Likewise, the Ministry of Health has started a helpline, ‘1115’ to deal with queries related to the coronavirus. Additionally, the dedicated communication team in Teku is in coordination with WHO and UNICEF and has been circulating awareness messages all around the country. “There is panic amongst the public and we are trying to spread the awareness to such people to help them take precaution rather than panicking,” Pandey adds.
Currently, Nepal only has the National Public Health Laboratory for testing coronavirus. The laboratory is fully functional from 9 am to 3 pm every day except public holidays. “We will extend the operation if required. The laboratory is capable of conducting 500 tests a week. We have identified some other laboratories capable of doing such a test. They will be utilised if required. With all the laboratories, we will be able to conduct 5,000 tests weekly,” says Pandey.
Pandey informs his team has identified 155 hospital beds in Kathmandu that can be used for isolation of coronavirus patients. However, the medical team and the Ministry of Health are continuously working towards plugging the gaps. The ministry has requested the provincial government to make their key hospital ready for treatment.
“To be honest, even though our medical sector is not as strong as China, Japan and Korea but during the last two months, we have been able to test suspected individuals on time and help one infected person recover,” Pandey remarks. He additionally says that the team has been able to learn a lot from the global context. “We have requested the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu for support in case of emergency and they are open to help. WHO, UNICEF and many other foreign agencies are willing to extend their support,” he adds.