The Covid-19 crisis has magnified and brought into sharp focus the result of a lack of investment in Nepal’s health system. Medical care is either too sloppy in government hospitals, or too expensive in private ones. Either way, for most Nepalis health care is either inaccessible or unaffordable.
To be sure, the scale of this crisis would have overwhelmed even an industrialised country’s health system. But despite knowing that a tsunami of coronavirus was approaching from India, Nepal’s health infrastructure remained severely lacking, and hospitals were sorely unprepared, understaffed and under-equipped. The limited resource now has to be distributed also among patients with other diseases.
There are a total of 18,917 general, 1,446 ICU and 634 ventilator beds across the country. But that is much less than what is needed. Doctors and nurses are working in longer shifts with diapers because they cannot waste time going to the rest room.
“Having already lived through the first wave albeit the milder one, we knew there was a risk and should have invested in preparedness but both the government and people didn’t realise the severity until it was too late,” says infectious disease specialist Sher Bahadur Pun.
He adds: “We have no visible increase in human resource or infrastructure to show as the stronger surge grips us all. We haven’t even begun to think about how to manage children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome requiring ICU due to Covid.”
The Health Ministry has projected the second wave to peak in Nepal with at least 15,000 cases a day by July. Even if that were true, nothing is stopping Nepal from falling victim to the 3rd, 4th and more waves as has happened in Europe and the Americas with new mutants.
The only way out of this pandemic is herd immunity through mass vaccination. But only 2.1 million of Nepal’s 30 million populations have received the first dose of either Covishield or VeroCell vaccines. Fewer than 400,000 have been fully inoculated with the booster shot.
Nepal’s plan to buy five million doses of Covidshield fell through after the Indian ban on exports of vaccines. Nepal is yet to receive one million doses it paid for.