Covid-19 is sickening and killing people of all age groups in NepalDoctors say attributing coronavirus-related deaths simply to pre-existing and underlying conditions is akin to refusing to accept the threat of the virus which has penetrated society.
On Thursday, Nepal reported eight more coronavirus deaths, taking the tally to 183.
According to the Ministry of Health data, 88 of the victims are aged between 31 and 60 years. Of the 183 people who have lost their lives to the virus so far, 17 were aged 31-40; 42 were aged 41-50, and 29 were between 51 and 60 years of age. The rest were either above 60 or below 30 years of age.
Though officials say 90 percent of those who died had pre-existing medical conditions, doctors say such a sweeping statement by those in authority could be costly for the country, as there is a need also to dig deeper into demography.
According to public health experts, attributing Covid-19 deaths to pre-existing and underlying medical conditions is tantamount to refusing to recognise the real threat of the virus.
“Youths and working class people have been infected and have died throughout the globe,” Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post.
“In our country also, the young population is getting infected and dying. Data shows that people who are in their highly productive age are dying. This can have long-term consequences.”
Doctors agree that people with underlying and pre-existing conditions are at bigger risk of dying from Covid-19, but the authorities should step up measures to ensure swift treatment for patients rather than just counting the numbers.
Chronic ailments like hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and thyroid have been reported in Nepalis from their early 30s.
Several studies, including the result of the STEPS survey on non-communicable disease risk factors, which is the population-based household survey of adults between 15 and 69 years carried out on 6,450 individuals, showed that 24.5 percent of the respondents (almost one in four) have high blood pressure.
About nine percent of the respondents had high blood sugar levels. Eleven percent of the respondents said they have high cholesterol.
Results of another study—Burden of non-communicable disease in Nepal—published last year show that of the total national deaths, 12 percent were caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Death is not just about numbers,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease control Division. “The authorities need to try to save people from dying, rather than simply saying every other death was due to some pre-existing medical condition.”
Ever since the first Covid-19 case was reported back in January, Nepali authorities have shown reluctance to recognise the threat.
In the initial days, people in power, including the prime minister and ministers, peddled misinformation and made futile efforts to declare Nepal a coronavirus-free country. The first death was reported on May 14, a day after President Bidya Devi Bhandari addressed the nation defending the KP Oli administration’s “efforts” in the fight against the pandemic.
When two deaths were confirmed, Prime Minister Oli was still reluctant to attribute them to Covid-19. While addressing Parliament, Oli said they had died of “some other reasons”.
Public health experts and doctors have for long alleged that the government has defied science and ignored their suggestions as Covid-19 spread in the country.
As of Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health, the country has reported 35, 529 Covid-19 cases across the country, with 1,111 new infections reported in the last 24 hours. As many as 377 new cases were reported in Kathmandu Valley, where the total number of coronavirus cases has reached 4,396.
Dr Madhu Devkota, a professor at the Tribhuvan University Institute of Medicine, said that people of all age groups are highly vulnerable to Covid-19.
“What is worrying is while the infection and death rate among the elderly is rising, working class people are too highly exposed to the virus,” Devkota told the Post. “Working class people are more mobile than the elderly people.”
In a bid to break the virus transmission chain, the Oli government has asked chief district officers to take measures, including prohibitory orders.
Chief district officers of the Kathmandu Valley, who issued prohibitory orders effective August 19 midnight for a week, on Wednesday decided to extend the restrictions until September 2 midnight. Public health experts and doctors, however, have been saying that just extendinng curbs won’t help fight the virus, as it has taken hold in society.
Devkota said that along with such measures, the authorities must focus on curative measures as well–isolation and treatment of the infected–to save lives.
“The authorities should arrange for more intensive care unit beds and more ventilators,” said Devkota. “The way the cases are rising and more deaths are being reported shows the virus has penetrated the community. The death rate could go up. The government must step up measures to save lives.”
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.