Covid-19 tests proving difficult in remote regions of Karnali ProvinceLocal governments say geographical remoteness and human resources shortage have hindered them from running effective virus containment measures.
Geographical remoteness and shortage of human resources have hamstrung the coronavirus containment measures in Karnali Province.
There are 10 districts and 79 local administrative units in Karnali, which is the largest province in the country. So far 66 local units have reported coronavirus infections.
Officials say there is an increased risk of the virus spreading in other parts of the province, as mass testing at the community level has proved to be difficult. There aren’t enough human resources and the public access to health facilities in the region is too poor to enable the authorities to mount an effective Covid-19 response.
Karnali Academy of Health Sciences in Jumla district, for instance, has deployed one health worker at the District Health Office in Gamgadhi to collect swab samples for coronavirus tests. People residing in remote areas of Jumla and other districts in the province have no option but to visit the health office to undergo tests.
"There is no road connectivity to most of the rural villages so our health workers haven’t been able to go to the villages to collect swab samples,” said Dr Mangal Rawal, director at the academy. “The provincial government sends helicopters to remote areas to collect swab samples and the academy sends health workers to accessible villages.”
The Ministry of Social Development in the province has said that coronavirus infections were reported in 2,372 people from 66 local units in Karnali as of Monday. Narayan Municipality in Dailekh district has the highest number of infections with 303 cases.
"Only those people who can reach the health office are undergoing tests. Those living in far-flung corners of Karnali Province are not getting tested,” said Suntala Rokaya, the deputy mayor of Chhayanath Rara Rural Municipality in Mugu district.
Health workers have warned that community transmission of the coronavirus in the province is a serious possibility, as mass testing in remote villages is proving to be difficult.
A swab sample collection clinic held in the upper region of Dolpa district recently saw participation from only two rural municipalities, Mudkechula and Jagadulla. The people in six rural municipalities could not participate.
"There is alternative but to use helicopters to reach the region,” Dr Sijan Rawal, chief at the Dolpa District Hospital told the Post. “Most of the swab viral transmission medium (VTM) kits are lying unused because we could not organise the swab collection drive in all local units.”
Lack of human resources have also affected the Covid-19 response in Karnali Province.
“We do not possess the kind of human resources required to conduct a swab collection campaign,” said Bishnu Bahadur Lama, chairman of Namkha Rural Municipality in Humla district. “There are no health workers deployed here to collect swab samples of coronavirus suspects.”
This problem is not limited to Namkha alone. The local units have also failed to run swab collection and mass testing campaigns.
Social Development Minister Dal Rawal said the provincial government does not have any immediate plan to collect swab samples in remote parts of the province.
The government is focusing on other containment measures, he said.
"We will soon add oxygen plants and ventilators in isolation wards in different districts. We will also appoint additional human resources and provide necessary training to the existing workforce," said Rawal.
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.