Inadequate preparations put Nepal at high risk from coronavirus

Only one thermal scanner camera at TIA

Rita Lamsal

March 1, 2020

7 MIN READ

Inadequate preparations put Nepal at high risk from coronavirus

Although the government has claimed the screening at TIA has been effective, the medical practitioners don’t agree with it.

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KATHMANDU: The novel corona-virus COVID-19 has already affected 64 countries and territories around the world and one international conveyance, the “Diamond Princess” cruise ship harbored in Yokohama, Japan till date.

With over 87,000 cases and over 2,900 deaths worldwide, it is spreading like an epidemic everywhere mainly in the countries of Asia, Europe and Africa.

Though heading to be epidemic in other countries, Nepal has claimed to have only one case so far. The Ministry of Health claims that the infected one has also been healed.

The government has kept 175 Nepali citizens in Kharipati based quarantine. According to the Ministry, out of 217 tested for coronavirus, only one was found corona positive.

Poor preparation against possible epidemic

To ward off coronavirus, the government has set up Health Desk in Tribhuvan International Airport, the only air gateway for international visitors.

However, the desk seems targeted only to the tourism year which seems shrinking in few weeks after set up. There were a consultant doctor, three medical officers, three nurses and three public health officers deployed for the desk.

Nepal first set up the health desk at TIA this time with the possibility of getting coronavirus transmitted through the Nepalis and foreigners returning/ arriving via China. When the corona spread in other countries the health workers are instructed to execute strict checkups of the tourists coming from five countries including China.

According to the health desk coordinator at the TIA, the desk has been conducting health tests against the people coming from China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. Interestingly, the check-up at the airport merely involves the fever checkup.

“With the reports about the coronavirus transmission in other countries, we have been executing individual screening against the passengers coming to Nepal from five countries including China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong,” Pandey said, “We queue the people coming to Nepal from this country, carry out the checkup and then only let them go out from the airport.”

Pandey told Khabarhub that the health desk checks to see the fever condition of the arrivers and the ones with the temperature more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit are sent to hospitals for further check-up.

He informed that 10 persons with unusual temperature are referred to Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Hospital in suspicion of the corona infection.

“10 persons found with high fever during our screening are sent to Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Hospital,” he said to Khabarhub adding, “some of them are foreigners and few are Nepalis; but no cases of infections are confirmed so far.”

Infection should be screened, controlled at airport: Experts

Although the government has claimed the screening at TIA has been effective, the medical practitioners don’t agree with it.

Dr. Rabindra Sameer thinks Nepal is at high risk of corona infection.

“We should remember that coronavirus has encircled us. Nearly 100 thousand Nepalis (migrant workers, students and others) are in each of China, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Bahrain,” Dr. Sameer said, “Provided coronavirus spreads in the countries like Malaysia and Arab countries, we won’t be able to take care of our own nationals.”

He thinks it imperative to make the health desk at Tribhuvan International Airport more systematic, well equipped and effective.

“To prevent coronavirus epidemic, airport or the entry points have to be more equipped, the more alert the airports are the safer the country can be,” he said to Khabarhub, “prevalent arrangement at the airport is not enough.”

All passengers should be screened: Health workers at TIA

The medical professionals deployed at the only international airport of the country are conducting health screening of the people coming to Nepal from five countries including China.

But, they opine that screening visitors from five countries alone can’t ensure the prevention of corona risks in Nepal.

“As per the government instruction we have been screening the people of five countries,” the health worker at TIA said under the condition of anonymity, “However, there is an equal risk from the visitors coming from other places alone.”

Only one thermal scanner camera at TIA

Everyday five-six thousand people come to Nepal through TIA. But there is only one thermal scanner installed at the place.

Nepal had arranged for two thermal scanner cameras during the Ebola terror. The government had decided to purchase two thermal scanner cameras to ensure the safety against Ebola transmission spread in West Africa in 2013-16. With the news of declining risks from ebola, the thermal scanner was removed from the airport.

At the coronavirus outbreak in China the thermal scanner cameras used four years ago were reinstalled on Jan. 25. But within a week of installation one of the scanners has gone out of order.

“The display of one of the thermal scanner camera purchased during Ebola outbreak is damaged,” the TIA source told Khabarhub, “We tried to repair but in vain; we have heard that procurement initiations are on, however, if the only scanner stops functioning, we will be helpless.”

However, the Ministry of Health and Population has claimed that it has started the procurement process for 4 thermo-scanners.

Scarcity of health workers

Prime Minister KP Oli had instructed to conduct health screening of every individual arriving from abroad irrespective of the countries they come from.

After PM’s instruction, the Ministry of Health and Population had also ordered to ensure screening of all, however, citing the scarcity of manpower the health desk at TIA replied the order could not be executed.

TIA source says the health desk there needs 12 more staff for screening all.

“Considering the health risk generated by the corona spread, the PM had directed to conduct screening of all passengers coming to Nepal,” the TIA source said, “We have written to the Ministry that it was not possible unless at least 12 more staffs are added.”

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