With the ruling Nepal Communist Party busy engaging in factional disputes over power and money, Covid-19 continues to claim the lives of frontline medical professionals and poor people. On Sunday, three health professionals across the country died of coronavirus in the course of treating Covid patients.
The Health Ministry’s spokesperson, Dr Jageshwor Gautam, confirmed that three doctors–senior surgeon Druba Sharma Mudvari, medical officer Gauri Shankar Dev, and senior auxiliary health worker Kapil Kumar Shrestha–succumbed to the virus on Sunday.
Mudvari was receiving treatment at Om Hospital, Kathmandu; Dev, at Nobel Hospital, Biratnagar; and Shrestha, at Seti Provincial Hospital, Dhangadhi.
The first doctor in Nepal to lose his life to Covid-19, on October 1, was senior orthopedic specialist Dr Hari Prasad Sapkota of Karnali Province Hospital, Surkhet.
Sunday’s toll represents the highest single-day death toll of health professionals so far. According to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), over 5,000 health workers have been infected, and at least a dozen of them have died.
Doctors in Nepal are working under stress, are underpaid, and are often deprived of the allowance the government had promised them. Earlier this month, fed up with the government’s treatment of health workers, scores of doctors at the Covid-deisgnated Bir Hospital had tendered their resignation en masse. The hospital’s management has yet to address their concerns. The protesting health workers are staging protests by taking turns, to ensure that patients continue to get their services. Most of the health workers on contract have not received their salaries, let alone the risk allowance announced by the government.
“Frontliners are always at risk of getting infected,” said the MoHP’s Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari. “They are the ones who know the virus very well, and they are the ones we depend on to provide treatment. The death of health workers at this time of crisis, of course, directly affects service delivery.”
Nepal already suffers from a shortage of medical professionals. And health professionals–at both government and private hospitals–are underpaid and overworked. In August, frontline workers started staging protests demanding timely wages and allowances. But the hospitals have not paid them any heed.
Thus while infections continue to rise, the health sector continues to lose professionals. The government has also asked them to pay for PCR tests and treatment out of their own pocket. Earlier, health workers used to get a PCR test every 10 days. But the government later changed that policy, making the tests mandatory only for health workers showing Covid symptoms.
The government had earlier also said that it would bear the expenses of Covid treatment for economically backward people, the differently abled, single women, the elderly, and frontline-workers, including security forces. A lawyer had later challenged that decision in court. So the Court ordered the government to provide free checkups and free treatment to all Covid-19 patients. But the government has not fully complied with the court order.
On Sunday, a total of 8,032 PCR tests were conducted across the country, and 1,669 new corona cases were detected. Of those, 733 cases were detected in Kathmandu, 131 in Bhaktapur, and 53 in Bhaktapur. With the new cases, the national infection tally has reached 220,308. And with 16 deaths on Sunday, the national tally has reached 1,321. The country has a total of 21,284 active Covid-19 cases, most of which are in Kathmandu Valley.