Kathmandu, May 20: As the pandemic continues to devastate the country, the Integrated Development Studies (IIDS), an independent, non-partisan, and not-for-profit think-tank, has forwarded a series of recommendations to the government to tackle the second wave of the virus. The study group was chaired by Dr Swarnim Wagle, chair of IIDS.
The policy document was prepared by an IIDS Policy Advisory Working Group on COVID-19. The recommendations were made after consultation with experts and young professionals, working on various aspects of the pandemic.
The document includes recommendations to the federal, provincial and local level governments on five broad areas. They include medical delivery regulation, increased testing, practical lockdown policies, information/data collection and vaccinations.
In terms of medical delivery regulation, IIDS has suggested decentralizing policy implementation and information gathering to the district and ward levels, to the extent possible. "Locally elected ward officials should be incentivized and resourced adequately to undertake community-level mass testing, tracing and isolating. We recommend that they mobilize the well-established networks of the 50,000-plus Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV), 250,000-plus community school teachers, and where applicable local youth clubs, aama samuhas and other similar groups," states the report.
For virus testing, it suggests increasing antigen testing, using random testing, mass testing and pooled testing, when appropriate, along with free testing for all, including the poorer populations. It recommends using antigen testing more widely. It is cheaper than PCR testing and has a quick turnaround time (approx. 15 minutes).
Similarly, IIDS recommends that the government put contact tracing protocols in place. Contact tracing protocols are highly effective at curbing the spread of the virus, and the document recommends mobilizing the existing networks of community health workers to act as tracers, as well as other public health/ social networks. "We recommend that they mobilize the well-established networks of the 50,000-plus Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV), 250,000-plus community school teachers, and where applicable local youth clubs, aama samuhas and other similar groups," suggests the policy document.
On lockdown policies, IIDS urges the government to balance the trade-off between limiting the spread of the virus and the adverse effects of strict lockdowns. "We recommend that government policy continue to limit large gatherings, and organizers of any such gatherings that receive exemption from this policy should be required to collect contact information of the participants in case of an outbreak.” Moreover, it also states that lockdowns will have to be eased to bring economic activity back once the infection rate declines. Severe lockdowns are not always necessary to slow the spread of the virus, and may have adverse consequences on society, including through negative effects on the livelihoods of economically vulnerable populations.
On information or data collection, IIDS has recommended that hospitals be required to collect certain data that are made available to researchers to support the government in updating its policy as the situation evolves.
The document also stresses the need for procuring more vaccines through diplomatic efforts.
"Not all measures recommended are wholly novel, but they underscore the urgency and impetus expected of public action drawing on the latest science and proven practices elsewhere," said Dr Wagle.
The policy recommendations were forwarded to the chief secretary and the secretaries of relevant ministries.