Health Emergency Operation Centre lacks funds for emergency situationsOfficials deployed to Tarai—after floods wreaked havoc—were asked to manage cash on their own.
Three weeks ago, when monsoon rains battered the country, floods wreaked havoc on the Tarai districts. Amar Dawadi, a public health officer serving at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, was sent to Bara, Parsa and Rautahat districts to deal with health emergencies in the aftermath of the floods.
Dawadi and 10 other staff serving at the Department of Health Services had been deputed in the Tarai districts as per the instructions from the Health Emergency Operation Centre, under the Ministry of Health and Population, to deal with potential emergency situations.
"We were told to go to flood-hit areas immediately, but at our own expenses,” said Dawadi, who was in Chitwan, when the Post talked to him. "Some staff went immediately, others reached the areas the next day or after two days or so."
Because of the inability of the Center and the Division to provide cash in advance, many health workers who were deployed in disaster-hit districts could not reach the sites on time, say officials. Moreover, both the Center and the Division members were asked to spend not more than Rs 1,600 a day, a limit set by the Health Ministry, which forced health officials to find cheap lodgings and food.
"While we settled at cheap hotels, we could not find proper food at cheap prices,” said Dawadi.
Dawadi and other health workers were deployed for seven days but were later asked to stay in the designated areas for another week.
Chudamani Bhandari, chief of Health Emergency Operation Centre, said that his office does not have the budget to deploy health workers and buy medicines for emergencies. One of the chief responsibilities of the Centre is to tackle health emergencies in the aftermath of major disasters like earthquakes, floods and others.
"Our proposal to allocate budget for emergency management was not endorsed," said Bhandari. "We do not have any money to provide to health workers and to buy medicine for a health emergency."
The budget that the Centre had (from last year’s budget), it has already used to purchase medicines during the emergency after flooding this year, according to Bhandari. “We don’t have funds to buy medicines if another emergency arises,” he said.
Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said his office also did not have any budget to deploy health workers and buy medicines in the event of epidemics.
Just as the Centre has to respond to health emergency after major disasters, the Division has to deal with disease outbreak throughout the country.
“The government used to provide us with an emergency fund in the past, but with the implementation of federalism and three tiers of government, we are not getting the budget,” said Lal. “It is difficult to mobilise staff immediately without giving them cash in advance.”
Due to a lack of money for emergency medicines, the division has been asking aid agencies—the World Health Organization, UNFPA, UNICEF and others—for medicines for emergency situations.
“The government spends over a billion for other medicines every year, but here we are forced to seek help from aid agencies,” added Lal.
Over 90 people died and hundreds of others were displaced by floods triggered by torrential rainfall some three weeks ago in some districts of the Tarai.