Kathmandu seeks support in swab collection and disinfection. Local governments say they lack resourcesHealth Ministry officials say they have requested local representatives to lead swab collection since they can trace contacts better.
Tankeshwor Belbase and his wife Saraswoti from Rapti Rural Municipality in Dang suddenly had cough and body ache resembling the symptoms of coronavirus. The octogenarian couple approached their local government to enquire if it had arranged for Covid-19 testing.
The local representatives were clueless and the couple was forced to go to Rapti Academy of Health and Sciences in Ghorahi, 40 kilometres away. Travelling at the time of prohibitory orders wasn’t easy and being in a crowd of test seekers could expose them to the virus if they had not been already infected.
“However, there was no alternative,” Belbase, 87, told the Post over phone.
When they finally got tested after five days, reports showed both of them had been infected with the coronavirus.
“We wouldn’t have suffered had the government arranged for testing or at least swab collection at the local level,” he said.
While there are no other complications with Saraswoti, Tankeshwor has developed a chest infection. He is currently under medication.
Dang has turned into a hotspot in the second wave of infections and Rapti Rural Municipality is among the most affected local federal units in the district.
So far 6,969 people have been infected, 2,959 of them since April 16, in Dang. On Friday alone, 366 positive cases were reported, according to the Health Ministry data.
However, there is nothing the local government is doing to curb the contagion. The federal government on Wednesday asked all the local governments to disinfect their residential areas and set up swab collection facilities in the hotspots.
However, even Rapti Rural Municipality, which is now the capital of Lumbini Province, isn’t in a position to provide the services asked by the federal government.
“We would love to do what the federal government is asking for,” Numananda Subedi, chairperson of the rural municipality, told the Post over the phone. “However, we don’t have the budget to disinfect, nor do we have resources and expertise for swab collection.”
He said the federal government must deploy funds and health workers before asking them to provide the services that are not in the regular plan.
The government on April 19 issued a 31-point directive to be implemented by the three tiers of administration.
As per the instruction, local governments are responsible for monitoring the condition of those in home isolation and making arrangements for taking them to a hospital if needed; managing PCR and antigen tests for those who have come in contact with infected persons, and swab collection.
The directive also makes local governments responsible for the construction of isolation centres.
Officials at the Ministry of Health and Population say they requested the local governments to lead swab collection because they can do contact tracing better.
“It is the responsibility of local governments to ensure that they coordinate in swab collection,” Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post. “They cannot escape from their duties.”
He said there are health posts in every local unit and they are mobilised in swab collection. Gautam said it is wrong for the local governments to rely on Kathmandu in every act.
“Local governments can also coordinate with private and government laboratories for swab collection,” he said. “Such labs can charge an additional Rs500 for reaching the community for taking swabs.”
The government has fixed Rs 1,000 as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test charge. There are 87 PCR labs in operation across the country.
Representatives of local governments say while some resourceful local units are carrying out swab collection, many aren’t because they either don’t have the human resource or it’s not feasible for them to send samples to a lab.
“The federal government delegates responsibilities to the local level whenever it is unable to deal with the problem,” Bhim Dhungana, general secretary of the Municipal Association of Nepal, told the Post. “It should be mindful of the financial resources and limitations of the local government while doing so.”
Health Ministry officials say it is the combined responsibility of all tiers of governments to work in tandem to deal with the pandemic. As the local governments are directly connected to the people, they should be more responsible, they say.
Local representatives say they are ever willing to serve the people but they should be capable of doing so.
“I agree that people are facing problems in the lack of swab collection facilities at the local level,” said Subedi. “But we are helpless.”