Indian coronavirus variant raises alarm for Nepal
Disclaimer: The opinion is of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NIPoRe at an appropriate place.
A new, more infectious, and deadly mutated virus of COVID-19, called B.1.617, emerged in India, and has now spread globally. At a time when the pandemic seemed to be under control in South Asia, this variant has increased exponentially, leading to a collapse of the health system in India and Nepal. As of 12 May 2021, more than 254,225 lives have been lost in India with 23,340,938 new cases. Due to an open and unregulated border system, the rise of infected people is increasing rapidly in the border area creating a threat to Nepal.
The first wave of the coronavirus cases in Nepal were also from across the India border. The movement of migrant workers has affected people on both sides of the border. Nepal’s health ministry has recorded that a total of 413,111 people were infected, and 4084 people had died as of 12 May 2021.The health ministry has already issued a notice that our health systems cannot control the pandemic. According to the health ministry projection, by July 15, the country’s coronavirus tally could reach 6,00,000.
A 15-day prohibitory order has been enforced in the Kathmandu valley effective from 27th April and it has been extended till May 27. The Ministry of Health and Population says it is next to impossible for hospitals to provide beds for coronavirus treatment to all those who need hospitalization. The health system is unlikely to sustain the shocking rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country. There has been a shortage of oxygen, beds, and ventilators. Doctors are looking after patients in the corridors and in tents. Due to the shortage, many hospitals have refused to admit coronavirus patients.
Given the first wave in Nepal too came from India, there were lessons that Nepal could have learned. What are the lessons that Nepal chose not to learn from the first wave, and is now facing in the second wave?
Lesson 1: As soon as India faced its second wave, the Government of Nepal should have been proactive regarding active contact tracing, mass testing and surveillance, but we did not. The testing needs to be made easily, available, and free of costs to people.
Lesson 2: There is a need for proper coordination between federal, state, and local governments. It is obvious that it is the best time to show the competency of local governments. They have to identify and look after their own vulnerable population particularly pregnant and lactating women, children, senior citizens, migrant workers and persons with disabilities. Relief packages should be distributed in an equitable manner. They must ensure that these facilities provide all basic amenities, including nutritious food, gender-friendly sleeping areas and clean toilets along with the provision of mental health service in the quarantine/ isolation center.
Lesson 3: As our health system has already collapsed, there needs to be a public private partnership and all private health institutions should work closely with the public system. Health desk and covid call center needs to be established.
Lesson 4: As per the research paper published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6 000 people around the globe were hospitalized and at least 800 people may have died due to misinformation related to COVID-19. Hence, social media should disseminate correct information and education to the public.