Despite court verdict, Covid patients made to pay for tests, treatmentThe Supreme Court quashed its review petition, but the ministry is yet to implement the judiciary’s latest order.
Although the Supreme Court refused to entertain a review petition filed by the Ministry of Health and Population over its previous ruling regarding providing free tests and treatment, patients infected with the coronavirus continue to be forced to pay for services.
The court on Thursday had refused to grant leave to the government for filing the review petition, which means the government has to abide by its earlier verdict to provide free tests and treatment.
“I don’t know about the new decisions made regarding free tests and treatment,” Dr Samir Adhikari, joint spokesperson at the Health Ministry told the Post.
The Health Ministry not only refused to make tests and treatment free implementing the October 5 Cabinet decision, but also refused to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict to provide free tests and treatment to people infected with coronavirus.
“Dereliction of duty’ is a term often used in bureaucracy, which means shameful failure to fulfill one’s obligation. It paves the way for dismissal for incompetence or inefficiency to fulfill the given tasks,” an official at the Department of Health Services told the Post, asking not to be named, as he feared retribution. “Providing free tests and treatment to the infected people and working seriously to curb the spread of infection is the constitutional obligation of the government, and saying no to free tests and treatment is a gross dereliction of duty.”
The Cabinet meeting had decided to test and provide free treatment only to those who can’t afford to pay and to single women, the disabled, frontline health workers, security personnel and cleaning staff. The decision was enforced by the Health Ministry effective from October 17.
“Had the system worked properly, the incumbent leadership of the Ministry of Health and Population and others responsible should have been dismissed long ago due to their gross neglect and incompetence in fulfilling their jobs,” said the official.
The Supreme Court on October 1 had directed the government to provide free polymerase chain reaction tests and treatment to all those seeking such services.
Moreover, Article 35 (1) of the constitution says every citizen shall have the right to free basic health services from the state, and no one shall be deprived of emergency health services.
The government’s latest decision on Covid-19 tests and treatment is also against the Public Health Act-2018 introduced by the incumbent government.
Sub-clause 4 (c) of Clause 3 of the Public Health Service Act-2018 states: “Every citizen shall have the right to obtain free basic health services under the following headings, as prescribed: Service relating to communicable disease.
“There are certain things, which cannot be said no to like saving lives during the pandemic,” Dr GD Thakur, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “If police say it cannot catch the culprit and the army says it cannot save the national boundary what would happen. If they said so, it will lead to anarchy.”
With the Health Ministry has stopped providing free tests and treatment, contact tracing of people who came in close contact with the infected people have also stopped. Patients too have stopped seeking treatment in the hospitals, unless they became seriously ailing, which has increased deaths due to delay in treatment and lack of sufficient intensive care unit beds and ventilators.
As of Saturday, 191,636 people tested positive to coronavirus nationwide with 1,087 deaths. In the last 24 hours, 2,753 people tested positive including 1,512 in Kathmandu Valley.
“The government should not shy away from its constitutional duties,” Dr Mingmar Gyelgen Sherpa, former director-general at the Department of Health Services told the Post. “It should allocate more budget for health and divert the resources from several nonessential programmes to save lives of people.”
The Health Ministry has not only refused to abide by the Supreme Court’s verdict, but also failed to enforce its decisions, due to which patients have been bearing its brunt. The ministry had fixed treatment charges for Covid-19 patients , but none of the private hospitals are following the decision.
According to the government, hospitals can charge Rs 3,500 a day to normal patients infected with coronavirus, Rs 7,000 to moderately ailing patients and Rs 15,000 to seriously ill patients admitted in the intensive care unit. But private hospitals are flouting this directive and charging more.
“If the government continuously refrains from its constitutional obligations and refuses to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict, it will lead to anarchism,” Bishnu Praasad Timilsina, deputy general secretary of Forum for Protection of Consumers Rights, told the Post. “It will be the subject of contempt of court.”
Public health experts say that authorities should continue mitigation measures like placing restrictions on movement, contract tracing and isolating.
“If we have to curb the spread of infections, those safety measures are necessary, as their importance have not lessened,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post.