Hospitals urge ministry to arrange for face masks, gloves and other protective gearAs a precautionary measure, Patan and Civil Service hospitals have started sewing cloth masks.
With both importers and suppliers having stopped deliveries, major hospitals in Kathmandu Valley have sought the help of the Ministry of Health and Population for face masks, gloves, caps and other protective gear to be used in the treatment of critical cases.
Some hospitals have also started sewing masks, using plain cloth, to manage the crisis.
"I have requested Health Ministry officials, personally, to arrange for us face masks and other protective gear," Dr Prem Krishna Khadka, director at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, told the Post. "Someone has to provide face masks and other necessary gear for us to continue our jobs."
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, also dubbed as SARS-Cov-2 in December last year, countries like China and India, on which Nepal relies heavily for protective gear such as face masks, gloves and caps, have prohibited their exports. Instead, the protective gear that was available here was supplied to China before the government there put a restriction on their exports.
According to Khadka, since his hospital has not been able to buy masks from the market, it is fast running out of them.
Dr Bishnu Sharma, director at Patan Hospital, told the Post that workers in his hospital have already started sewing masks of plain cloth for their daily use. "Our health workers come to hospital and make their own masks before they join their duty. What can we do when we have no alternative?"
Civil Hospital, which is a major government hospital in Kathmandu, said it had put a restriction on unessential use of masks.
"We have been providing masks to only those doctors and health workers, who absolutely need them," Dr Dirgha Raj RC, director at the hospital, said. "We have also started sewing cloth masks to prevent a crisis."
According to RC, his hospital has started keeping cloth masks, made by their own staff, in stock.
Officials at the Management Division of the Department of Health Services concede there’s a lack of surgical masks in the market. "Some hospitals, including Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, have requested us to supply masks," Bhogendra Dotel, director at the division, said. "We too have been trying to buy face masks and other protective gear in bulk to prevent the crisis at the health facilities."
The division said a Nepali vendor had committed to supplying 50,000 masks to the division on Tuesday, but later said it could provide only 25,000. The division has been distributing masks and other protective gear to government hospitals that are facing a crisis.
The Health Ministry also faces a shortfall of n-95 masks, personal protective equipment, gloves and negative pressure care beds.
According to Dotel, his office was unable to purchase masks, gloves, caps and protective gowns due to the soaring prices caused by export restrictions and the massive demand for them within the country. The division has invited bids for procuring n-95 masks, 15 negative pressure care beds required in isolation wards but has failed to secure any as no supplier has shown its interest.
"Each negative pressure care bed costs Rs750,000 in the market, but we were planning to pay Rs 30,000," said Dotel. "The supplier has proposed supplying n-95 masks at Rs485 this year, but we cannot pay more than Rs300, the price we paid last year."
A spokesperson for the Health Ministry, Dr Bikas Devkota said the agencies concerned have been directed to stock up essential items like face masks, disinfectants, sanitisers, thermal scanners, and test kits for emergency purposes.
Meanwhile, the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, on Tuesday, imparted training to security personnel deployed at the Tribhuvan International Airport, immigration staff and staff serving at the airport customs, on ways to coordinate response to prevent the spread of the deadly virus in the country.
Executives of the Hotel Association Nepal and Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal also participated in the training, said Dr Basudev Pandey, director at the division.
"We also invited the representatives of private and government hospitals to discuss preventive measures," he said.
Since it was first detected in Wuhan, the epidemic SARS-CoV-2, has spread to 77 countries. As of Monday, it had killed 3,131 people and infected 92,231 worldwide.
The World Health Organization, which has already declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, has raised the global outbreak risk to the highest level.
Nepal, so far, has reported only one case. But the government has faced a barrage of criticism for its handling of the situation. That prompted some health experts to say it was only a matter of time before the epidemic spreads to Nepal.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 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. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
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.