Is Nepal prepared to deal with COVID-19?

Pramila Rai
Emergence of COVID-19 formerly called Coronavirus from China and its pandemic tendency all over the world threaten every people in the world. It is a live example of how we used to say diseases know no border. Diseases don’t say which country is the strongest and which are weak; microorganisms infiltrate every virtual border that people created for themselves for their satisfaction. Recent statistics show that novel corona virus already hit more that 70,000 people and claimed about 2200 lives in china including the doctors involved in the treatment and movie director figures. Similarly, Number of new Coronavirus cases have been rapidly increasing in South Korea, which lies in close proximity of China. It also foretells new emergency to its bordering countries unless it is controlled with extreme caution. Similarly, Iran already recorded a sixth death from COVID-19 posing danger to all neighboring Asian and Middle East countries and it brings to many Nepalese workers currently employed in those countries. 

As I look through rising statistics of new cases and consistent fatality rate in this short time, I get more scared for the country like Nepal. Main cities of Nepal are at high risk due to their dense population. Kathmandu is highly polluted, the public transportation gets crowded, the roads are full of people; overcrowding is huge problem in Nepal. A house accommodates many members as tenants and owners. On top of the problem of overcrowding, lack of awareness about proper precautionary measures among residents is high. These people should be educated about importance of handwashing, use of personal protective equipment such as masks, goggles, gloves. These awareness should be reflected in their behavior. However, on the other side, the lack of water supply at their residents, hand washing facilities, rising cost of masks would be huge barrier to adopt those preventive measuresfor the people of Nepal leading to higher probability of uncontrolled epidemic. 

China is one of the power house in the world. It had capacity to build a 1000 bedded hospital just in a week specifically for the Coronavirus case management. Whereas our country takes years to build 25 bedded hospital due to various reasons: long overly complicated administrative and bidding processes, inefficient planning and lack of stewardship and accountability.The inefficiency also comes with deficiency of determination in part of all stakeholders. In such case, our preparedness is at high stake for such emergency. In worst case scenario of coronavirus infiltration into Nepal, infected case management in the hospital is equally challenging. There should be provision of effective adequate personal protective equipment, their regular sterilization, isolation units or isolated hospital, sterilization of the hospital wards. Staffs should have adequate training and strictly adhere to the protocol developed by the hospital. But for all of these to work in place, we require financial investmentand technical expertise, involvement of all the stakeholders such as hospitals, ministries, international organizations, state, local and central level of government, the people. We should amass all of our capacity and plan to distribute and redistribute as per the need. 

Another dark side of COVID-19 is the discrimination and stigma it brought among us. It is not only affecting the person physically, emotionally, it is also affecting our humanity side. Some of the cases are already at light depicting how some people returned from China were perceived by the local people, how police behaved towards China returnee. This epidemic is likely to bring back the discrimination and stigma that were epidemic at the time of HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, microorganisms do not discriminate anyone and will affect any host on its way. It could be anyone including the one who discriminated somebody due to their infection status. 

Nevertheless, Government of Nepal showed its willingness to save its citizen at any cost by bringing Nepalese people from China, the epicenter of COVID-19. It was very bold decision on part of the government but things is not going to be easy as COVID spreads its arm to many countries where Nepalese people are living. In case it finds its way to Nepal as epidemic, it is going to be another earthquake in Nepal’s history if we don’t work at our best. All in all, emergence of COVID-19 will be taking test of our ability to deal with emergency preparedness activities, and our solidarity, collaboration and humanity. Our preparedness should really be huge to tackle with this biological earthquake. 

-(Pramila Rai - PhD student at Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)


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