Role of non-governmental sector can be crucial in tackling Covid-19, public health experts sayThe government has yet to respond to non-government organisations’ offer of help as the virus threat grows.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Earlier this month, various non-governmental organisations said they were ready to offer help to the government to combat potential health crises in Nepal in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. Two weeks later, representatives of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said they were yet to hear from the government.
“It’s our genuine call. We want to make contributions to tackling the disease, but the government has not responded yet,” said Jitbir Lama, president of the NGO Federation, a grouping of local NGOs.
According to the Social Welfare Council, the government agency that regulates the non-government sector, the Association of International Non-government Organizations had offered help in the areas of home quarantine and testing kits, quarantine centres and health facilities.
“Some foreign NGOs working in the health sector have said they can utilise 5-10 percent of their budget in combating the novel coronavirus,” said Achyut Luitel, chairperson of the Association of the International NGOs. “But the government hasn’t responded to the offer.”
According to data from the Social Welfare Council, as of fiscal year 2017/18, there were 106,092 registered non-governmental organisations in the country. Over 50,000 domestic NGOs and 250 foreign organisations are affiliated with the council.
Public health experts say that NGOs, the private sector and cooperatives can play important supportive roles in the time of crisis.
“It is time to mobilise both the government and non-governmental sectors,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division. “NGOs can contribute by spreading awareness and making arrangements for health workers at isolation centres.”
Similarly, transport entrepreneurs, according to Marasini, can raise awareness among workers and passengers. “If the government takes private medical colleges into confidence, they can be utilised to add more isolation centres when the state-run health facilities fall short of such centres.”
Although the only case of Covid-19 reported in Nepal has already recovered, there are widespread concerns about the possible outbreak, as the virus continues to invade countries across the world, taking a toll on humans as well as the economy.
The government has announced a slew of measures from halting flights to suspending spring expeditions and shutting cinema halls and banning public gatherings to control the spread.
Starting Sunday, the government also suspended all non-essential services as outbreak fears continue.
Public health experts say the government also needs to chalk out a plan as to how it can pull together all the resources—not just from within the state machinery but also from outside—in the event of a crisis.
“Given the large number of NGOs operating in the country, their mobilisation can be hugely helpful to control the spread of the disease,” said Dr Sharad Onta, a public health specialist.
“NGOs have access to the grassroots where they have been carrying out various activities and they can integrate measures to tackle the virus.”
According to Onta, what NGOs can do in a more effective way is running awareness campaigns.
“Messages conveyed through the media are usually one-way communication,” Onta told the Post. “But NGOs can use their resources to connect with communities and messages through them make two-way communication, thereby avoiding any confusion.”
Apart from information dissemination and awareness, NGOs can also fund some basic things—soap, sanitisers and water—which are most required at this time, according to Onta.
Government officials said they have plans to mobilise NGOs and community organisations.
“We have prepared a plan, which is yet to be made public,” said Bikas Devkota, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population. “We have told NGOs to prepare themselves for mobilisation.”
Devkota, however, stopped short of giving details.