KATHMANDU, Oct 20: "It is hereby informed that all patients undergoing treatment for COVID-19 shall have to bear the expenses of the treatment on their own starting October 18 as per the decision made by the Ministry of Health and Population. It is also informed that food shall be available after depositing money at the hospital canteen." This is a notice pasted at the Civil Hospital in Kathmandu on Monday. This is against the fundamental right of the people guaranteed in the Constitution of Nepal, 2015, to say the least.
Although the fundamental rights mentioned in the constitution are inviolable, the government has already asked people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to bear the cost of treatment on their own. In case their fundamental rights are violated by the state, citizens reserve the right to file a writ petition at the Supreme Court to revoke such decisions.
In fact, the apex court has already passed a number of verdicts directing the government to provide free of cost test and treatment to COVID-19 patients as per the constitutional provision. Article 35 (1) of the constitution states that every citizen shall have the right to free basic health services from the State, and no one shall be deprived of emergency health services.
However, addressing a regular virtual press conference, health ministry Spokesperson Dr Jageshwar Gautam on Sunday said that the government was not able to provide treatment to all those testing positive for the virus.
The decision to ask the citizens to bear the cost of their treatment for the COVID-19 infection comes against the constitution and the verdicts passed earlier by the apex court.
Not surprisingly, the decision has already drawn widespread criticisms as it also goes against the provisions of the Public Health Service Act, 2075 BS. Section 3(4) of the Act defines "basic health service" as promotional, retributive, diagnostic, remedial and rehabilitative service easily and freely available from the state for the sake of fulfillment of health needs of citizens. Similarly, Section 4 recognizes the services related to communicable diseases and services of general emergency conditions as basic health services.
What the apex court said
The Supreme Court on April 6, 2020, directed the government to set up quarantine facilities as per the standards set by the World Health Organization and monitor home quarantine. In response to six different writ petitions, the apex court also directed the government to expand the scope of COVID-19 testing even outside the Kathmandu Valley to ensure access of the people across the country to the treatment of COVID-19. The apex court has already defined not just those regular health services but also those surfaced suddenly as emergency health services as mentioned in the constitution.
Similarly, the apex court on October 1 directed the government to provide free of cost treatment to those infected by COVID-19. A division bench of justices Aananda Mohan Bhattarai and Tanka Bahadur Moktan passed the verdict saying that citizens can lead healthy and active lives only if the state puts the basic and emergency health services to citizens in its priority.
The apex court has also directed the government to conduct tests of both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients as the government had earlier announced to conduct the tests of only those showing symptoms of COVID-19.
In a separate verdict on May 14, a single bench of Justice Manoj Kumar Sharma ordered the government to expand the scope of PCR tests of COVID-19 infection and save the lives of people. The court issued the order in response to a writ petition filed by advocate Kalam Bahadur Khatri. The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and other relevant government bodies were made defendants in the case.
In yet another verdict on May 31, the apex court separately issued an interim order to the government to conduct the PCR tests of all those staying in quarantine facilities. A division bench of justices Prakash Man Singh Raut and Kumar Regmi also directed the government to conduct the PCR tests free of cost as per the guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The justices duo also directed the government to conduct the PCR tests of all frontline workers and provide them all safety gears.