A government lab in Dang issues notice to local units demanding charges for Covid testingMany local unit heads have protested against the Academy’s move, arguing that it is the federal or provincial government’s responsibility to pay for the tests.
The Rapti Academy of Health Sciences in Ghorahi has stopped conducting PCR tests from Thursday, as its calls to local units asking for testing charges went unheeded.
Since Saturday, the academy has sent all its incoming swab samples to Nepalgunj instead. The academy, which owns two PCR machines, said it would charge Rs5,500 for each swab sample tested for the coronavirus.
As of now, Province 5 has four places that test for the coronavirus through PCR machines. As many as 5,514 swab samples are in line to be tested as of Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, local units across the province are confused by the academy’s decision. According to Sahaj Raj Ahir, chair of Gadhawa Rural Municipality in Dang, the academy sent a letter to the local unit demanding Rs4.7million for conducting coronavirus tests and sample collection.
“We were not informed about the cost before the testing began months ago,” Ahir said. “Now we don’t have enough budget to pay for the tests and they have stopped receiving swab samples altogether.”
Bhaktabahadur Oli, chair of Bangalachuli Rural Municipality, went so far as to allege the academy of trying to “run a business” out of corona testing.
“This is running a business in the name of health,” he said, adding that the academy has demanded a total of Rs 8million from his office. “We don’t know what to think about receiving payment notice from a state-owned institute assigned for corona testing.”
Like Ahir and Oli, many local unit heads have protested against the academy’s move, arguing that it is the federal or the provincial government’s responsibility to pay for the tests.
Ghanashyam Pandey, mayor of Tulsipur Sub-metropolis, said that swab samples sent from his local unit were returned by the academy demanding payment. “This is a wrong practice,” he said. “We demand punishment for the academy officials.”
Meanwhile, the academy’s acting registrar Kailash Prasad Dev said the institute itself is struggling financially, which is the reason behind the correspondences to the local units. “The institute is struggling financially after a slump in the number of patients of diseases other than Covid-19,” Dev said, adding that the institute procured PCR machines and other medical apparatus with its own fund. “We started asking for charges because it’s difficult for us to continue testing with the existing resources.”
Dr Sangita Bhandari, the vice-chancellor of the academy, said the health institute wrote to the local units on the basis of previous discussions held with them into the matter, contrary to what some of the local units claim.
“All the local units had agreed to bear their own expenses. The swabs were returned as they refused to provide the amount as agreed earlier. Other laboratories in the academy have remained closed for a long time. We don’t have any other sources of income now,” she said.
Bhandari claims the academy has been struggling to provide salary to the technicians in the testing lab due to a lack of budget.
“We have also not received the amount we spent on buying the PCR machine. We should be reimbursed by the federal or the provincial government. We have asked the fund as per the rate announced by the government,” she added.
Meanwhile, provincial assembly members have raised questions to the provincial executive about the academy charging the locals for Covid-19 tests.
“Is the academy run by the government or is it a profit-oriented institution? The government has to answer. The academy sent all its swabs to Nepalgunj, as it refused to conduct PCR tests on Sunday. Who will regulate and monitor the academy that receives budget from the provincial government and also demands budget from the local bodies?,” said Saraswati Gautam while speaking at the zero hour on Sunday.
Another provincial assembly member Phakaruddin Khan also drew the government’s attention to the issue, stating that the academy charged a huge amount to the local bodies and stopped conducting PCR tests after it did not receive the amount.
Responding to the questions raised by the assembly members, Social Development Minister Sudarshan Baral said that the academy did not abide by the instructions of the government. According to him, the provincial government had allocated a Rs 6 million budget to the academy to set up the PCR laboratory.
“We (the provincial government) and the federal government wrote to the academy and instructed them not to collect any amount from the local units. But Vice-chancellor Bhandari ignored the instructions,” said Baral. He said the provincial government is ready to provide an additional amount to the academy if needed.
The academy has conducted the PCR tests of 12,481 swabs as of Saturday. The swabs of 10,610 Covid-19 suspects in Dang were collected for the lab test. Among them 263 swabs are yet to be tested, said Dr Umashankar Chaudhary at the Social Development Ministry.
Among the critics of the academy’s move is Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel. In a Facebook status, Pokhrel has written that it is wrong of the hospital to ask for charges for Covid testing and that halting the testing process goes against the protocol followed by public health institutes. “The provincial and federal governments are managing the funds for the labs,” Pokhrel wrote. “The academy can demand for more funds if it’s running short.”
Meanwhile, the provincial Ministry of Social Development has written a letter to the chief minister’s office, asking it to direct the academy to resume Covid-19 testing. The provincial Public Accounts Committee has said it would start the ground monitoring of the academy.
The academy, however, has yet to resume Covid-19 testing as of Monday evening. Swab samples collected from local units across the province have been sent to Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa for testing.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.