Amid novel coronavirus concerns, WHO Nepal country office furnishes draft report on Teku hospital isolation facilityAn expert team from the UN health agency has pointed out several factors lacking in the isolation ward set up at the hospital.
The World Health Organization's country office in Nepal on Wednesday furnished a draft report about the condition of the isolation facility set up at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku some 10 years ago.
A team from the UN health agency had inspected the facility at the request of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division in June last year. The WHO furnished its report to the division amid concerns regarding Nepal’s preparedness to deal with outbreaks of deadly viral diseases.
"We are currently studying the draft report submitted by the WHO Nepal office," Dr Basudev Pandey, director at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post.
Officials at the division and the hospital had requested for the report after WHO alerted its member states about the risk of transmission of a new strain of coronavirus—nCoV—that originated in Wuhan city of China.
Doctors say isolation in a hospital setting is a precaution taken to prevent further spread of infection, which if left unchecked, could jeopardise the health of other patients, hospital staff, visitors and the community at large.
According to Pandey, an expert team from the UN health agency has pointed out several factors lacking in the isolation ward set up at the hospital. The team recommended fulfilling the requirements for the isolation ward to be operable.
The WHO team has recommended arranging an “isolation transport” ambulance to transport suspicious cases and setting up isolation rooms at the hospital's out-patient department and the emergency ward to limit contagion risk to other patients and health workers.
Constructing a ramp to ease the movement of patients to the isolation room and installing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are the other recommendations made by the team.
Pandey said it would take millions of rupees to bring the isolation ward into operation. The ward was set up with the support of the World Bank almost a decade ago at the time of the avian flu epidemic. Since setting up the ward, not a single patient has received treatment there.
"We have to go through a public procurement process for even minor upgrades," said Pandey. "It takes months to fulfil all procedures."
Health experts say Nepal is highly vulnerable to contagious diseases—especially the new strain of coronavirus nCoV, as the inflow of Chinese tourists is high in the country.
The country aims to attract two million tourists in 2020, including 350,000 Chinese tourists, under its Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, a team of health workers comprising technicians from the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division visited the health desk set up at the Tribhuvan International Airport to study the possibility of setting up a thermal scanner and an air-conditioned room.
The health desk was brought back to operation last week after the WHO alert about the possible coronavirus pandemic. Images of the health desk that were widely shared on Thursday, however, showed a notice board that asked passengers coming from Africa to go through screenings.
The notice many believe could have been put up at a time when there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa, and authorities were oblivious to the fact that they needed to update the notice board also.
“There seems to be some lapse; we will change it,” Dr Hemanta Chandra Ojha, an official at the division, told the Post.
According to Ojha, the division will now also set up a thermal scanner at the health desk. “The airport authority has agreed to let us place a thermal scanner and make other safety arrangements there,” Ojha told the Post. Earlier, the airport authorities had appeared reluctant to let the division set up a thermal scanner citing security reasons.
Thermal scanners tell the exact temperature of the human body in air-conditioned rooms only.
The division on Thursday also imparted training to health workers serving at Teku hospital on precautionary measures to take during an outbreak of deadly viral diseases.
At least 17 people have died and over 570 have been infected by Wuhan coronavirus. Chinese authorities have locked down three cities—Wuhan, Ezhou and Huanggang—in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. Air service, train, bus, ferry services in all three cities have been suspended and people have been advised to stay indoors, according to the New York Times.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 31, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 783,120 people with 37,696 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,650 with 20 deaths. While India has reported 1,251 confirmed cases with 32 deaths. Nepal has so far reported five cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.