91 health workers across the country have been infected with coronavirus so farPublic health experts warn health facilities could become coronavirus hotspots if the government fails to set up an infection control system.
A few days ago, some nurses at Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital tested positive for the coronavirus.
The infected nurses were immediately placed in isolation while the health workers who came into their contact were sent to quarantine.
The detection of coronavirus in the hospital has affected the treatment of several cancer patients, as the hospital administration had to not only dispense with a number of staff to prevent infection, but also halt some of the services to disinfect the hospital.
"At least 91 health workers—doctors, nurses, paramedics and lab technicians—deployed in front line to fight Covid-19 have been infected so far,"Dr Prakash Budhathoky, chief of Basic Health and Emergency Health Service at Curative Service Division under the Department of Health Services, told the Post. "Similarly, hundreds of health workers who came into close contact with the infected individuals have been either placed in isolation or quarantine."
Health workers serving in over three dozen health facilities, including Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Kathmandu Medical College, Alka Hospital, Vayodha Hospital, Hams Hospital, Nepal Cancer Hospital, Parbat District Hospital, Rapti Academy of Health Sciences, Karnali Academy of Health Sciences and Covid-19 special hospitals in Butwal, Nepalgunj and Birgunj have been tested positive for the coronavirus so far.
"Health facilities are becoming new coronavirus hotspots and their health workers, possible medium of infection," said Budhathoky. "Our health system will crash, if we could not protect our health workers and health facilities. When health workers themselves are getting placed in isolation wards and quarantine centres, there is a high risk of people dying of minor ailments."
Public health experts have long been drawing attention of the concerned agencies about the importance of infection control in health facilities and among health workers. But their concern continues to be neglected despite several reports of coronavirus infection among health workers.
There are at least three agencies under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Population— Policy, Planning and Monitoring Division, Curative Service Division and Epidemiology and Disease Control Division— to monitor the infection control mechanism and practices in health facilities. Besides, Provincial Health Directorate, District Health Office and local governments also can monitor the infection control system in health facilities. But none of the agency has so far carried out the monitoring.
"We have been drawing attention of the concerned agencies since the beginning as the infection control in health facilities is crucial to controlling the coronavirus spread," Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, told the Post. "But no one has paid heed to our concern."
The Health Ministry had instructed the health facilities across the country to provide personal protective gear to only those health workers who are taking care of the infected patients and those working in fever clinics due to the shortage of personal protective equipment. Protective medical suits became accessible to all health workers only after domestic as well as international companies started supplying them.
Several precautionary measures and protective gear are still lacking in health facilities, but the concerned agencies have done little to address these shortages.
"The government should monitor the health facilities and make them accountable if there are infection outbreaks," said Bastola. "Health facilities which cannot fulfil the infection control requirements should be shut down."
Dr Bikash Devkota, chief of Policy Planning and Monitoring Division at the Health Ministry conceded that the lives of health workers and patients were being endangered due to the absence of an infection control system.
"It is definitely a serious cause for concern. We have been working to enforce measures to control coronavirus infection in health facilities."
He said that the Health Ministry will also direct the agencies concerned to monitor infection control measures taken by health facilities.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of August 5, 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 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 18,700,119 people with 704,332 deaths and 11,915,046 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections 1,906,613 at with 39,820 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 280,461 confirmed cases with 5,999 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 21,009 cases with 58 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.