Nepal | January 23, 2021

Government’s decision to charge for COVID test, treatment draws flak

‘Apex court can take govt to task for violating its order’

Himalayan News Service
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The government’s decision not to provide free COV- ID-19 test and treatment to everybody has drawn flak from constitutional, legal and health experts.

The government has decided to foot the COVID test and treatment cost of only the poor, helpless, single women, differently-abled citizens, senior citizens, frontline health workers, sanitation staff and security personnel.

Constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya said the government’s decision violated constitutional and legal provision that guaranteed citizens right to access basic health services.

Acharya said the Supreme Court had ruled that all Nepali citizens were entitled to testing and treatment of COVID-19. “The government’s recent decision violates not only constitutional and legal provisions but also the SC order.

If the SC wants, it can take suo motu action against the government for violating its order,” Acharya added.

He said the court could take suo motu action even during Dashain vacation as it was an urgent matter.

He said the decision also violated the ruling party’s manifesto that talked of providing free basic education and health services.

Chief of Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum Raju Prasad Chapagain said International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Nepal was party to, protected people’s right to access minimum economic, social and cultural rights, but the government’s decision to charge people for COVID-19 test and treatment violated the covenant’s provisions.

“Dhulikhel hospital today issued a notice stating that people seeking COV- ID-19 treatment should pay up to Rs 200,000. This means poor COVID-19 patients cannot get easy access to treatment,” he added.

He said, “The government has the obligation to act as the guardian of citizens in times of pandemic but its recent decision shows that it is trying to shrug off its responsibility.”

Chapagain said if state coffers were empty due to the impact of COVID-19, the government should issue a whitepaper telling the truth so that international community could think of providing economic support to the government to fight the pandemic.

Public health expert Anup Subedee said the government’s decision could force infected poor people to not seek healthcare and stay at home. “If poor people who suffer from COVID-19 stay at home without getting themselves tested, then they can easily transmit the disease to healthy people,” he added.

Subedee said there were ways to reduce the cost of test and treatment provided that the government adopted right strategies.

“Other countries are successfully testing people without using VTM (virus transport medium) and reagents.

If Nepal also does that it can significantly reduce the cost of tests,” he said. He added that if the government could manage quarantine and isolation centres well, intervention could be made early as a result of which many COV- ID-19 patients’ condition would not deteriorate and they would not have to seek ventilator support or treatment in ICUs. He said if the government did not have enough resources to treat all patients, it could think of alternative models and partnership with other stakeholders.


A version of this article appears in print on October 22, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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