Impoverished families in Udayapur have no access to Covid-19 testingPoor people with Covid-like symptoms forced to stay home as they can’t pay for expensive tests.
Fifty-seven-year-old Hemanta Karki, a resident of Sorung in Katari Municipality-10 has been suffering from fever and cough for the past couple of days. But he doesn’t have the means to get a PCR test done.
“I have symptoms similar to that of Covid-19, but I haven’t visited a hospital yet since I don’t have the money to travel to a government hospital to avail a free test or visit a private one for a PCR test,” said Karki, whose family members too have been suffering from similar symptoms. “We are seven in the family and four of us have high fever.”
Karki, a daily wage earner, is worried about his and his family’s health condition.
A week ago, the federal government announced to discontinue free test and treatment, except for certain groups including the helpless, impoverished and disabled. Although families like the Karkis qualify for a free test since, there aren’t any labs or Covid-19 specific hospitals in Udayapur. “I will have to travel to Dharan, Biratnagar or Kathmandu to avail free PCR test,” said Karki. “Earlier the municipality used to collect swab samples and send them for PCR. But these days, that has stopped.”
Om Mishra, information officer at Katari Municipality, said there are hundreds of locals with Covid-19-like symptoms in Katari Bazaar and its vicinity. “Many patients have been requesting the municipality to collect their swabs for testing but the government labs are not accepting swab samples for free testing,” he said. “The ones who can afford are going to other cities to get a PCR test done but a majority of locals in Katari, Gaighat and Beltar among other areas are left without test or treatment.
According to Naresh Singh Thapa, a local resident of Triyuga Municipality, private labs in Biratnagar charge Rs2,100 per sample for PCR test. “For one test, an individual has to spend Rs7,100, including travel expenses and other expenditures while going to Biratnagar. Swabs are not being collected at the local level. And, patients cannot travel in a public vehicle,” he said. “We have to hire a vehicle for Rs 5,000 to go to Biratnagar from Udayapur. That’s why many patients and suspects have been compelled to stay home without medical attention,” he said.
Lilanath Bhattarai, chairman of Ward No. 10, said there are a dozen patients with Covid-19-like symptoms in Sorung alone. “An increasing number of locals are falling sick almost every day. We haven’t been collecting swab samples for testing since the government stopped free testing.”
Health officials in the district warn of high chances of further spread of Covid-19 in the district if immediate measures aren’t taken. Mohan Prasad Subedi, chief at the District Public Health Office in Udayapur, said, “Locals are living at high risk due to lack of free Covid-19 tests. The local units have to start swab sample collection and testing even if it has to be done at their own expense. We are looking at a major health hazard if the government does not step up soon.”
Out of 8,211 swab samples collected in Udayapur, 232 individuals including 71 women tested positive for Covid-19 so far, data from the district public health office showed.
For Naraman Ale Magar, 39, a daily wage worker in Katari, the government’s move put his entire family at risk. “I have been suffering from high fever and continuous headache for the past week. I bought some medicines from a medical shop but there is no improvement in my health. My son has also been bed-ridden due to high fever,” he said. “We don’t know where to go.”
In Biratnagar, swab samples are being tested free of cost at the laboratory of Koshi Hospital and Provincial Laboratory.