Print Edition - 2014-08-19  |  Development

Quarantines are long-term investment

- Manish Gautam
Quarantines are long-term investment

Aug 18, 2014-

The outbreaks of deadly communicable diseases in different parts of the world in recent years are increasingly becoming a threat for Nepal. Risk of foreigners or Nepalis returning from abroad carrying alien diseases into the country, and transmitting them to healthy citizens cannot be denied especially when our country lacks the resources and the expertise to tackle these diseases.

Poor health safety measures at various check posts and Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has exposed a large population to the risk of contagion of diseases, many of which are known to have a high mortality rate. Fortunately, Nepal has not witnessed the severity of these diseases that have killed hundreds of people in other parts of the world.

In 2003, many parts of Asia, including Hong-Kong and China, were grappling with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). According to World Health Organisation, the disease that erupted from Guangdong province in China travelled in humans to 30 countries, killing over 800 people and infecting 8,000 others. Then, Nepal government had set up temporary health desks at the TIA to control SARS outbreak in the country.

Similarly, when H1N1 influenza, otherwise known as swine flu, broke out in different parts of the world in  2009, screening facilities were set up at the TIA. In June of that year, the National Public Health Laboratory confirmed the first case of H1N1 influenza in a person who had returned from the United States. The 2012 Journal of Nepal Medical Association mentions that 30 cases of H1N1 were confirmed in the country as of September 2012. All patients had contracted the disease outside the country.

The latest diseases threatening the global population are Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). When MERS-CoV, which was first detected in 2012, kept the governments and health authorities of other countries on their toes, our government largely lacked the concern that was needed to protect its citizens.

 Now,  Ebola has emerged as a global threat. The deadly virus has already killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa and affected a large population. Nepal too faces the risk of EVD contagion, given the rate at which the disease is spreading.  The government has once again established a temporary health desk at the TIA to screen Ebola patients entering the country.

Health experts say since the outbreak of communicable diseases is becoming more frequent in recent years, it is high time the Nepal government established permanent health scanning facilities at the TIA and border areas.

The world is witnessing outbreaks of new diseases almost every year and the government cannot go on establishing temporary health desks every time there is an epidemic of new disease, says Dr Badri Raj Pandey, who is a public health expert.  

 “Setting up a permanent health centre with a medical officer and a few assistants, along with laser guns and thermal close circuit camera to measure temperature, would be a one-time investment,” Dr Pandey says. “It will also show the accountability of the government towards the health of the public.”

Currently, there are two private-run health centres inside the TIA for emergency treatment of passengers. These facilities, however, do not screen the passengers for diseases. They are solely focused on offering medical help to the people who suffer from health complications inside the airport.

Nepal has obligation to comply with International Health Regulation 2005, an understanding among the countries to help prevent the spread of diseases, given the high mobility of people in the international arena. This regulation has also urged nations to have safety mechanisms to prevent the spread of disease from one country to another by establishing screening centres at the airports. Nepal has not complied with the regulation so far.

 Dr Baburam Marasini, the director at Epidemiology and Disease Control Division of the Department of Health Services, says policy makers feel the need of such health desk only during the time of international health emergency.

“Once the situation has come under control, they forget its need. It is a dangerous mentality that could invite a national health crisis,” says Dr Marasini.  

He adds that EDCD has proposed the plan of setting up permanent health screening facilities at the TIA and border checkpoints, including at Tatopani, Kakadvitta, Birgunj, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj, Dhangadi and Mahendranagar.

“It is hard to translate our plan into action on our own because of the budget constraint. It would be wise for the government to invest on the screening facilities and protect its citizens against imported diseases.”

Published: 19-08-2014 09:09

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