Covid-19 patients from low, middle income can’t afford beds in private hospitalsThe government should coordinate with private hospitals to give services to the general public as state-run hospitals cannot cope with rising number of cases, doctors say.
A week ago, Gautam, whose name we are not sharing at his request, had a continuous dry cough accompanied by fever fatigue, three classic symptoms of Covid-19. Just a few days before he got sick, his wife had had similar symptoms. The couple’s one-year-old son was also unwell.
Initially, Gautam did not bother to get tested. He said he had seen other people recover at home.
But he relented to get a test at the insistence of his relative.
“My relative told me that I wouldn’t be able to get a hospital bed for myself, my wife and our son if one of us were to fall severely ill,” said the 37-year-old, who lives at Pepsikola, Kathmandu.
As expected, Gautam tested positive. The test results of his wife and their son have also come back positive.
The doctor who checked Gautam told him that he has developed infections in his chest, a symptom of pneumonia. But he is reluctant to get admitted to a hospital.
“All government-run hospitals are packed right now. I can’t afford to go to a private hospital,” said Gautam, who is currently convalescing at home along with his wife and son.
The family has no other choice. For many low and middle income families like the Gautams, getting treatment for Covid-19 is financially impossible.
Although government hospitals have been providing treatment to Covid-19 patients for free or at minimal cost, they are currently overrun with patients.
At private hospitals, the admittance and treatment fees are beyond the reach of the poor and the working class.
On Sunday, Kathmandu Medical College at Sinamangal published a notice stating that it would be charging Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 per day to Covid-19 patients.
HAMS Hospital at Mandikhatar also published a similar notice, where the price of bed and infection control charge for Covid-19 patients ranged from Rs7,000 to Rs 50,000.
Private hospitals argue that they themselves are stretched to their limits and if they were to admit every patient, they won’t be able to offer proper care.
When Sunita Khatiwada tried to admit her mother to Nepal Medical College Teaching Hospital at Jorpati on Wednesday, the beds available were too expensive for her to afford.
The 26-year-old, who herself has Covid-19, said it is her 50-year-old mother in need of medical help right now.
“She sometimes has difficulty breathing and is in need of oxygen therapy, ” said Khatiwada. “But it’s really hard for us. We tried to admit her but all beds were packed and those available were too expensive.”
Officials at Nepal Medical College Teaching Hospital said that all its intensive care unit beds were occupied at the moment. The hospital charges Rs20,000 per day to Covid-19 patients on ventilator support and Rs 15,000 for keeping a patient on oxygen support for a day.
“It is as though only the rich can get the treatment while the poor are left to die,” said Khatiwada.
Khatiwada and her mother are at home relying on homemade remedies, hoping and praying that they are spared by the virus.
If they go to government hospitals, they are sure to be referred to private ones because there are no beds available.
At Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, patients are being treated on the floor and courtyard.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at the hospital, said they have no option but to refer new patients to other hospitals.
“It’s like we are in a war zone. The government should coordinate with private hospitals to give services to the general public because we simply cannot cope with the rising number of cases,” he said.
On Wednesday, the country reported another highest ever single-day death toll with 58 deaths and record-high new cases at 8,605.
Dr Pun sympathises with the poor people who are unable to afford care in private hospitals.
“Yes, the rich can charter helicopters and go to the hospital of their choice. The poor and the economically deprived, meanwhile, are dying,” he said.
Social commentator and professor Sanjeev Upreti says the present crisis has shown the real status of socialism, the status of humanity and democratic practices which has been talked about for long.
“Poor people are in dire need of oxygen and hospital beds. Hospital owners doing business is nothing new but this is an exceptional situation we are living through right now. There should not be any calculation of profit or loss,” he said.