Remote Sankhuwasabha lags in Covid-19 preparednessSuspected patients have to travel to cities outside the district for PCR tests.
A woman from Khandbari, the district headquarters of Sankhuwasabha, was taken to the district hospital on Monday after she showed symptoms similar to that of Covid-19. On Wednesday, the woman in her late fifties along with three members of her family tested positive in rapid antigen tests as the hospital doesn’t have polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing kits or a lab.
Since the family had heard that antigen tests are not accurate, they wanted to undergo PCR tests, which are not available in the district. So they decided to go to Kathmandu.
But the trip to Kathmandu cost them much more than they had anticipated.
“We had no option but to charter a helicopter to Kathmandu,” said the woman’s brother-in-law. “We paid Rs 300,000. All four patients are currently receiving treatment at various hospitals in Kathmandu. We had to pull in all of our resources to be able to charter a helicopter and for the treatment. It would have been a huge relief for us if only our District Health Office had installed a PCR testing machine in Sankhuwasabha itself.”
Sankhuwasabha is one the most remote districts in Province 1. Not many people in the villages have the resources to hire private vehicles or charter helicopters to Kathmandu for PCR tests.
The symptomatic patients of Covid-19 in the district have to spend a huge amount of money to go to Kathmandu, Biratnagar or Dharan to get tested and treated. An ambulance charges Rs 15,000 to take a patient to Biratnagar, the provincial headquarters.
Even during the height of the pandemic last year, there was not a single PCR machine in the district. The health office would collect swab samples and send them to labs in Dharan or Biratnagar for testing. It stopped swab collection and contact tracing in November last year, citing zero coronavirus cases in the district.
With a second wave of the coronavirus hitting the country hard, Sankhuwasabha is far from prepared to fight the virus.
The district health office has only around 1,000 virus transport media (VTMs) and still no provisions for conducting laboratory tests.
Suman Shakya, chief at the District Coordination Committee who is also the chairman of the district hospital management committee, said the meeting of the District Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre would be held soon to discuss the possibility of conducting PCR tests in the district itself.
“Preparations are going on to bring VTMs and antigen in the district by coordinating with the local units. PCR testing was halted last year in November, as there were no new reported cases,” said Shakya.
According to the District Health Office, the first Covid-19 case this year was reported in Sankhuwasabha on April 1, after an interval of around five months. Currently the district has 23 active cases. Among them, 14 are in home isolation.
The health authority has been criticised for its lackadaisical response to contain the second wave. Covid-19 suspects have to undergo PCR tests at their own expense in cities outside the district.
“The government authorities are indifferent towards controlling the virus infection even though it has reached the communities. Health security protocols have not been maintained in the district. The risk of Covid-19 infection is very high, as the district does not even have a PCR lab,” said Ashmin Bajracharya, a local of Khandbari.
The District Health Office does not have any concrete and immediate action plan to control the spread of the coronavirus infection in Sankhuwasabha.
“We had to take the swabs collected in the district to Dharan or Biratnagar in the past. We are planning to carry out PCR tests in Dharan this time,” said Ramesh Bahrakoti, the chief at the District Health Office. “We don’t have plans to procure a PCR machine yet.”
The health authority, however, has managed isolation facilities with 95 beds in Khandbari and Chainpur of the district.