Nepal | July 03, 2020

Protective gear shortage imperils health workers


Himalayan News Service
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Kathmandu, March 25

Health professionals in Nepal, especially doctors and nurses, who are on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, are ill-equipped to treat coronavirus patients, as they don’t have adequate number of personal protective equipment.

Health workers generally come in close contact with patients, exposing them to the risk of infection. If they get infected, chances of them passing on the disease to others, including family members, cannot be ruled out.

It is, therefore, a must for health workers attending highly infectious patients to put on PPE, which includes gowns, aprons, gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles and face shields to prevent infection. But Nepal has only 500 PPE in stock, which can be used up if the number of coronavirus patients jumps, as the gear cannot be reused.

“It is going to be difficult for us to work without adequate supply of PPE,” a health worker at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, a hospital designated by the government for coronavirus treatment, said on condition of anonymity. If this continues, health workers will carry home the infection, endangering family members, another staff of the hospital said on condition of anonymity.

This staffer has already started sleeping in a separate room at home since more people started visiting the hospital for coronavirus tests. “But it is difficult to stay away from children,” the staffer said. “If the government cannot provide PPE, it should make arrangements for us to stay in the hospital until the crisis is over.”

Health workers have started expressing these concerns as the number of coronavirus positive cases has gradually started increasing. Nepal, which confirmed its first coronavirus case in late January, recently detected two more COVID-19 patients. But the government is yet to procure additional PPE.

“The contract with the supplier, which was supposed to deliver 30,000 units of PPE, is now void, as it could not deliver the goods on time,” said Bhogendra Dotel, director at Logistics Management Division at the Department of Health Services. “We are now personally reaching out to vendors we know and asking them to supply PPE.”

Earlier, the World Health Organisation had called on governments to provide incentives to manufacturers to ramp up production of PPE as countries across the globe started facing shortage of the gear. But Nepal has not started producing PPE in large numbers to cater to the demand.

If adequate number of PPE is not available, chances of health workers skipping work are high, a staffer at STIDH said.

The Ministry of Health and Population today said it had sent 50 sets of PPE to each of the provinces. “Arrangements are being made to procure more PPE,” said Bikash Devkota, the ministry’s spokesperson, adding, “We can’t allow frontline workers to work without PPE.”

To ease the situation, the ministry has already asked all public hospitals to dip into their reserves to buy adequate number of PPE, according to Devkota.

A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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