Nepal | November 27, 2020

EDITORIAL: It’s the govt’s duty

The Himalayan Times
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The government is doing a big disservice to the nation by being selective while providing free testing and treatment

As was to be expected, the Supreme Court has registered a case of contempt of court against Minister of Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal for allegedly defying its directive to the government to provide free tests and treatment to COVID-19 patients.

The government’s recent decision to have the patients themselves bear the expenses for the tests and treatment of the coronavirus comes at a time when there is a surge in the number of new cases and deaths in the country, and the government help is anticipated more than ever before. The Supreme Court had ordered the government to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services free of charge because the coronavirus is a public health issue, and as such it is the fundamental right of the people to receive free health service as enshrined in the Constitution of Nepal-2015. However, the Office of the Attorney General, in a review petition on behalf of the Health Ministry, said that the coronavirus was not a disease that could be listed under basic health service.

Of course, the government argues that free tests and treatment are still available to certain groups of people, namely, poor people, disabled people, single women, senior citizens and frontline healthcare workers and security personnel. But then what sort of proof is required to show that one is economically backward? There is nothing like an identity card in the country to prove one’s economic status. Hence, the patient could land up wasting a lot of time running from office to office for some kind of document as proof, all the while putting many people at risk of contracting the virus. The virus is so contagious that with the appearance of the first symptoms, no time can be lost in conducting a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test and providing the necessary therapeutic service. The government cannot afford to cite the country’s limited economic resources as an excuse for charging a certain category of people for the COVID tests at a time when the number of cases is doubling every few weeks.

Regardless of the arguments posed by the government, the government has the moral obligation to bring the coronavirus under control. And the only way to do this is to carry out as many tests as possible to locate both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients and isolate them. Nepal’s COVID cases have topped 176,000 with the death toll inching towards a thousand. With more than 2,500 new cases surfacing every day, a major health crisis in the country is in the offing, especially with the onset of the cold season when the number of cases and deaths is expected to jump even higher. The number of tests Nepal carries out daily are not comparable to countries with a similar population. True, they are richer than Nepal and have a lot of resources at hand, but the virus does not discriminate between rich and poor. So when the government denies free health services at this critical moment, many people might choose to hide their disease instead of coming forward for testing, tracing and treatment. The government is doing a big disservice to the nation by being selective while providing free testing and treatment to the people.

Food crisis in Humla

The people of the northern part of the mountainous district of Humla are reeling under a food crisis following the closure of Nepal-Tibet border this year, thanks to the surge in coronavirus cases. Whatever food the locals of remote Limi area grow is enough to sustain them only for six months, and for the rest of the year, it is imported from Taklakot.

Before the winter sets in, the locals of this area must travel to a food depot in Simikot, from where the state-owned Food Management and Trading Co. Ltd. distributes subsidised grains. But the foodstuff the company disburses is barely enough to meet the local demand. The company has just started the process of supplying 2,000 quintals of food grains for the Limi locals. But how long it will take to transport the food to the area is uncertain. The required food should reach the area before it starts snowing, which usually is in mid-November and continues for three to four months. The district faces acute food shortage every year, but the government’s approach to dealing with it is ad hoc. Hence, Karnali Province must work out a long-term plan to make the region self-sufficient in food.


A version of this article appears in print on November 04, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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