Enough is Enough campaigner ends hunger strike after agreement with health ministryThe youth-led campaign has urged the government to implement the agreement this time.
The member of the youth-led Enough is Enough campaign called off his hunger strike after 23 days, following an agreement with the Health Ministry.
Iih, a member of the campaign, had been staging a hunger strike demanding a better Covid-19 response from the government and had been taken to hospital due to his deteriorating health.
The agreement signed Sunday came after several rounds of negotiations between the two parties on Friday and Saturday.
The agreement includes increasing the real time polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR) and testing for antigens, a new Covid-1 test that detects certain proteins that are part of the virus; increasing qualified personnel and equipment to expand testing; consulting with public health experts in decision-making processes; establishing hotlines (1133 and 1115) for health workers and essential workers to request for protective gear; and ensuring dignified funerals for those people who have died of Covid-19.
Aalok Subedi, who was part of the negotiating team from the campaign, told the Post that the government has also agreed to make public the pandemic expenses.
Sunday’s agreement follows an earlier one made on July 7, when the government agreed to discontinue rapid diagnostic tests (RDT), controversial for its lack of accuracy, and increase PCR tests to detect coronavirus infections on both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers; expand contact tracing; ensure dignity and safety for health workers and essential workers; and improve quarantine facilities across the country.
Despite the assurance from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to address the demands set by the campaign, the government had not kept its end of the bargain. In response, three youths, Samaira Shrestha, Iih, and Karan Gurung, had resorted to another hunger strike at Basantapur Durbar Square from July 22 while the campaign staged a series of protests in the Capital to exert pressure on the government.
The protests were met with arrests and beatdowns by the police. On June 29, Pukar Bam, along with five others, was taken into police custody from Singhadurbar while they were on their way to file a right to information petition and a corruption case against government officials and top bureaucrats, including Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dahal, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Prime Minister Oli, and his advisor Bishnu Rimal.
On June 30, Bhawana Raut, a 21-year-old student, was suspected of being a protester and detained by the police in Bhatbhateni. She told the Post that when she was released along with other detainees late in the evening, the police used brute force to remove them from the station and in the process some people were injured by police batons.
As per a press statement released by the campaign, the movement has been successful in bringing across some positive changes, including mandatory quarantine of returnees from abroad, with guidelines for self quarantine and isolation. RDTs have been completely replaced with PCR testing across the country, including testing of contacts of those tested positive, in both public and private laboratories.
“Last time, when we ended our hunger strike, it was because the government had agreed to increase PCR testing to up to 10,ooo per day,” campaigner Iih had told the Post in July. “But contrary to their promise, testing has significantly decreased all over the country and while it seems like the number of cases aren’t high right now, that’s not an accurate picture.”
The campaigners have urged the ministry to implement the agreement this time.
Dr Sameer Adhikari, joint spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population who signed the agreement on the ministry’s behalf, told the Post that the demands made by the youth activists are legitimate ones that would help ministry handle the pandemic in a more efficient manner.
However, Adhikari also stressed that the ministry has already been doing most of what has been signed in the agreement.