Dismay mounts as govt fails to open swab test labs outside Valley

Published On: March 26, 2020 05:50 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, March 26: A number of people with coronavirus-like symptoms who want to be tested have expressed frustration as the government struggles to extend testing labs outside the Kathmandu Valley. The National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) at Teku is so far the only facility where such tests are conducted.

Public disappointment with the government has only grown as the NPHL's capability is far below what is required for conducting such tests. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, only 687 tests have been conducted so far at NPHL.

Although the government asked all the passengers coming to Kathmandu from Doha on Flight QR 652 of Qatar Airlines on March 17 to undergo tests after a 19 year-old Nepali student who was on the plane was diagnosed COVID-19 positive on Monday, the Teku lab has declined to take their swab samples, a passenger on the flight complained on Wednesday.

A businessman from Nawalparasi who returned from Doha on that flight was contacted by police on Tuesday evening, asking him to conduct a swab test. He came to Kathmandu from Chitwan overnight despite the lockdown, only to be disappointed.

The Teku lab declined to take his swab sample on Wednesday as it has a limited number of kits at its disposal for such testing.

He complained of fever and cough, but the hospital asked him to come back only if he develops a high fever and his condition worsened in the days ahead. "After I complained they have called me again for a swab sample tomorrow [Thursday]," he told Republica.

The government has decided to collect swab samples daily by plane from Biratnagar and Nepalgunj but the decision is yet to be implemented as all domestic flights are also grounded as a precautionary measure to contain possible spread of the COVID-19.

The government has decided to set up such facilities at Dhulikhel Hospital in Kavre, Bir Hospital, the BPKIHS in Dharan, Gandaki Medical College in Pokhara and Bheri Hospital in Nepallgunj. But the decision is yet to be implemented.

Minister for Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal on Wednesday said that work has begun on setting up a laboratory at BPKIHS. "We sent some kits to BPKIHS today for operating the lab at the hospital," he said Wednesday.

Minister Dhakal said the government has also initiated a process to import medical kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and this would take a few days. "We are now concentrated on bringing medicines and medical kits as we are now working with the limited materials we have," he said. "Much needed medical kits including PPE, thermal guns and medicines are expected to arrive in Kathmandu within the next three days from China."

In view of the demand for medical kits in various districts, the government has decided to deliver the imported materials at the province and district levels immediately, mobilizing the Nepal Army, Nepal Police and the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport for the purpose.

Although Nepal has found only three cases of Covid-19 so far and only two patients are being kept in hospital isolation, both Shukraraj Tropical Hospital Teku and the Armed Police Force Hospital in Balambu, which the government has announced to develop as a dedicated hospital for the treatment of coronavirus, are already overwhelmed with suspected cases awaiting their swab test results.

The Health Ministry has decided to transfer COVID-19 positive patients to isolation beds at Patan Hospital to minimize the pressure at Teku and the Armed Police Force Hospital , according to Health Minister Dhakal.

After complaints against private hospitals and medical colleges for not admitting patients complaining of symptoms similar to that of COVID-19, the government has decided to mobilize a mechanism led by the health secretary and comprising representatives from the Nepal Medical Council, Nepal Medical Association and various organizations of private hospitals to coordinate with private and public hospitals and admit such patients at any hospital available.

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