COVID-19: Understanding the importance of testing, tracking mechanism

Published On: April 3, 2020 01:00 PM NPT By: Kamal Subedi  | @Inspiredkamal

Coronavirus infections in Nepal rose to six on Thursday after a 65-year-old woman who returned to the country on March 17 from Belgium via Qatar transit tested positive for COVID-19.

As neighboring China was passing through a troubling situation after its Wuhan city was hit hard by the novel coronavirus, Nepal recorded the first coronavirus case on January 24. However, the government could not foresee that Nepal might also face the menace of COVID-19.  

All the six COVID-19 cases are imported, according to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP). It is learnt that the second, fifth and the sixth COVID-19 patients had shared the same Qatar Airways flight that landed at Tribhuvan International Airport on March 17. It has not been clear yet whether other passengers who boarded the same flight also got infected by the novel coronavirus.

The MoHP authorities said they are tracking all the details regarding the passengers who had boarded the same flight. The ministry spokesperson Dr Bikash Devkota, told media on April 2 that 84 percent of tracking the families and other persons who had been in contact with the confirmed patients has been completed. However, the authorities are yet to expedite tracking the persons who had been in touch with the patients.

After the 19-year-old girl Belgium returnee tested positive for this deadly disease on March 28, another lady who travelled to Nepal from the same European country on the same flight of Qatar Airways tested positive on April 3. This particular case suggests that the tracking has not been effective and up to the mark. At a time when WHO has been urging the world community for tracking, isolating and testing, our scenario is quite upsetting. It means Nepal's tracking system is not effective.

Due to lack of effective tracking mechanism, the abroad returnees have been roaming carelessly. The families and relatives of the infected persons also are not aware of possible consequences. The government has urged all abroad returnees to go for 14-day self-quarantine. The persons who are in contact with them are unaware of infection and its rapid spread.

Since the deadly virus first emanated from Wuhan city of China in December, last year, Nepal failed to take effective precautionary measures timely. Over the period, we could set up multiple laboratories throughout the country, enhance the capacity of government hospitals, set up facilitated isolation wards, train the medics and manufacture or purchase medical equipment.

However, we started doing everything at the eleventh hour when the deadly virus spread like wildfire in many countries of the world including neighboring India. Another disappointing thing is that private hospitals have stopped receiving normal patients owing to the possible spread of COVID-19. Amid coronavirus outbreak fears, health workers at public health institutions are reluctant in caring the patents due to the lack of safety materials including PPE.

As of Thursday, only 1184 persons have been tested on the suspicion of coronavirus infection and it is very little. It is also reported that patients with fever and cough are forced to return even without collecting their samples. At the same time, test reports are being received very late. Rapid testing system has not been implemented yet. Due to delay in receiving the medical report, a suspected patient had to lose his life in Butwal on March 29. Isn't it a perturbing situation? He had developed similar symptoms to COVID-19, however, did not test positive for it. Later, it was learnt that he died of pneumonia.

Due to lack of rapid testing mechanism, abroad returnees have faced difficult times at their places. People fear upon meeting them. In case any one of them had high fever or cough or similar symptoms to that of coronavirus disease, not only common public but also the health workers tend to get scared. It leads to delay in treatment and sometimes untimely death of patients because of other diseases.

It is apparent that our health mechanism is hugely poor which rarely afford to fight against this epidemic if it spreads just like in Europe or America or China. Therefore, the wisest thing to act upon is to raise awareness among the people, tracing the contacts to COVID-19 positive patients and testing. The government has taken some serious measures to contain the virus such as the imposition of the nationwide lockdown. But the lockdown alone is not enough, according to the countries who had gained experience in fighting against this disease. 

We can learn from South Korea to combat the deadly virus which launched a massive test campaign through mobile booths and drive-thru centers in addition to lockdown.

Therefore, tracing the possible patients and expediting a reliable testing system and conducting more and more testing will be the best alternative to curb its spread. Otherwise, it is sure to prove false satisfaction on having little number of COVID-19 patients.

Testing not only ensures the infection but also helps in maintaining mental and social wellbeing. The people should equally be sincere towards adopting the precautionary measures during the lockdown so that the national efforts to combat the deadly virus would succeed.

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