Health Ministry’s decision to resume contact tracing yet to be implementedAfter the government started charging patients, number of patients dying in homes has increased.
At least 13 people come into close contact with people infected with Covid-19, a study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Population shows. The finding means the 13 others should be tested for every positive case to contain the spread of the virus.
However, the Health Ministry hasn’t even implemented its own decision to continue contact tracing and provide free tests to those found to have come into contact with the infected.
“As the Cabinet decided to provide free tests only to those with symptoms of Covid-19, contact tracing hasn’t been resumed,”Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “The Cabinet decision has to be amended for us to resume contact tracing.”
The Health Ministry on Monday had decided to resume contact tracing, which was halted as per the October 5 Cabinet decision, following severe backlash from various quarters. But it is yet to do so.
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 October 17.
According to results from the Health Ministry’s own study, over 40,000 tests should be performed every day, as daily positive case numbers are around 3,000 on an average.
However, only around 10,000 tests are being conducted everyday.
What is more alarming is that private laboratories are performing more tests than that state-run laboratories.
Of the 13,144 polymerase chain reaction tests conducted on Wednesday, 7,450 tests were done by private labs. With the government deciding to halt free tests and contact tracing, state-run laboratories have stopped getting samples in numbers they used to in the past.
The National Public Health Laboratory, which can test over 3,500 samples a day, tested only 451 on Wednesday. Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Hospital’s laboratory, which can test over 600 tests a day, tested only 127.
The number of tests at the two labs were even lower on Tuesday—168 by the national Public Health Laboratory and 113 by the Sukraraj Hospital’s laboratory.
Dr Pokhrel concedes that as contact tracing hasn’t resumed, labs are not getting samples and people are seeking treatment only when their situation gets critical. “Isolation facilities and beds allocated for moderately ailing Covid-19 patients are getting vacant,” said Pokhrel. “But the number of deaths is increasing, as people are seeking treatment only when they become critically ill.”
When the patients become critical, they need intensive care and ventilator support, already occupied by the other patients.
Public health experts say that the government policy of not providing free treatment and tests is responsible for more infections and deaths. “The government should shoulder the responsibility to save lives of people from the pandemic,” said Dr GD Thakur, former director at Epidemiology and Disease Control Division. “ A lot of people will die, if the decision to stop free test and treatment is not corrected.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Population said that it has directed all health agencies to keep track of the health condition of the infected people, who are in serious condition and have pre-existing conditions, and refer them to hospitals on time.
However, health workers serving at local levels complained that infected people have stopped cooperating with them after the government decided not to provide free test and treatment.
“We have issued a circular to all health agencies throughout the country to monitor the health conditions of the patients and refer them to hospitals if their health condition deteriorates,” Health Ministry’s chief specialist Pokhrel added. “If the patient goes to hospital on time, they can get oxygen and other treatment on time.”
Doctors, however, are sceptical about the decision. Of the 34,905 active cases in the country, around 29,000 are in home isolation.
“Given the size of the infected people in home isolation, and the level of seriousness on the part of the officials, it will be naive to believe that the decision of monitoring the health of infected people will be implemented,” an official at the Health Ministry said, asking not to be named.
As of Friday, 188,883 people throughout the country have tested positive to Covid-19 with 1,070 deaths. In the last 24 hours 2,909 new cases were detected with 18 deaths, according to the health Ministry.