Nepal | July 08, 2020

Health ministry pitches for declaring health emergency

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Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population say that declaring public health emergency will help the government deal with the COVID-19 crisis more effectively.

Khem Bahadur Karki, health adviser to Minister of Health and Population, told THT that declaring public health emergency would enable the government to mobilise economic and human resources to fight COVID-19.

“Until now the situation is under control, but it may worsen any time. Then we’ll have to declare health emergency,” Karki said. He added that other countries had also declared health emergency to deal with the contagion.

According to Karki, declaration of health emergency would empower the government to convert any private house or entity into a quarantine centre or an isolation ward. It will also enable the government to direct private doctors and health professionals to treat COVID-19 patients.

“If the number of COVID-19 patients continues to surge like this, doctors and health professionals in government hospitals may not be enough to deal with the spread. In that case, the government will have to seek the help of private hospitals,” he added.

Karki said declaration of health emergency would enable the government to coordinate with national and international government and non-government agencies to channelise their efforts to defeat COVID.

“Only after the government declares health emergency can it tell NGOs and INGOs to focus their policies on fighting COV- ID-19 till the crisis is over,” said Karki. He added that the government was receiving support from international donors to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but declaration of health emergency would enable Nepal to seek more funds from international donors.

Assistant Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population Samir Kumar Adhikari said the ministry’s decision to declare public health emergency was in line with the ministry’s COVID-19 response plan that has a provision empowering the government to declare public health emergency if the number of COV- ID-positive cases crossed 2,000.

He said the ministry would be within its rights to declare public health emergency as per Section 2 of Infectious Disease Act and the Public Health Services Act after the Cabinet’s approval.

Section 48 (4) of PHS Act stipulates that if public health disaster occurs in more than one province, the Government of Nepal may declare state of public health emergency.

He said declaration of public health emergency would also enable the government to seek services of retired doctors and health professionals.

Public health expert Kiran Raj Pandey, however, said even the declaration of public health emergency would not make much of a difference in the government’s fight against the COV- ID-19 pandemic. He said the government made a mistake by not ramping up testing when the number of COVID-positive cases was below 100 and isolating the patients. He said the government also failed to comply with WHO guidelines at quarantine centres set up for Nepali migrants returning from India.

“We have seen that COVID-19 infection spread in quarantine centres where social distancing rules were not strictly followed,” he added.

Pandey said if the government wanted to use private resources to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, it could do so without declaring health emergency.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 6, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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