Like many other nations, Nepal is pulling out all the stops against the COVID-19 pandemic that is now at its peak. The rising virus cases and fatalities have forced the government to change its COVID-19 prevention strategy keeping its existing capacity and resources into account. The other day it drew flak for its decision of not bearing the medical expenses of the patients infected with the virus. The mainstream and social media ran the news stories slamming the government decision. Even the opposition parties and some ruling party lawmakers expressed their reservation over the policy shift with regard to the treatment of coronavirus patients. However, there seems to be a lack of proper understanding of the decision. In the beginning, the government had decided to incur all treatment costs and provide financial support to the COVID-19 patients. This was an ideal decision and was implemented accordingly. This truly reflected the government's commitment to the vision of welfare state and constitutional pledge to make health the fundamental right of the citizens.
Despite the dwindling state coffers in the wake of virus-induced economic crisis, the government treated all virus-infected patients free of cost. It really punched above its weight. But now the situation is getting more complicated as the rising number of patients has overwhelmed the hospitals. The new decision is neither undemocratic nor anti-constitutional for it has not stopped shouldering the responsibility of treating the COVID-19 patients at all. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has introduced new terms and conditions for the people seeking free COVID-19 treatment from the government. The poor, disabled, marginalised people, single men and women, elderly and those working on the frontline can get free treatment from the government. However, they have to produce identity cards or recommendation letters from concerned authorities to avail the free services. Likewise, the government will repay the treatment cost from insurance companies in case of those who have been insured against the COVID-19.
Minister for Communication and Information Technology and government spokesman Parbat Gurung has said that the government has given high priority to saving the lives of people and dismissed rumours that it has pulled out its hands from the responsibility of granting free treatment to the COVID-19 patients. He clarified that the government would provide free treatment to those who are unable to pay the medical costs. This policy is based on a principle that those who can afford the treatment costs should bear by themselves and those unable to do so will be taken care of by the state. This approach is pragmatic but the government should ramp up the health facilities targeting the COVID-19 patients.
It is imperative that the critical patients have prompt access to the ICU beds, ventilators and oxygen irrespective of their economic conditions. There are reports that the COVID-19 patients have succumbed to the virus as they failed to get admitted in hospitals with ventilator facility in time. Likewise, its policy of not managing the bodies of those who breathe their last in home isolation needs to be corrected. Given the contagious nature of the virus, the family members alone cannot handle such bodies. The government should form and put standby the rapid response teams of health workers, security personnel and hearses to cremate those bodies. In this time of unprecedented health crisis, the government should be more proactive, humane and accountable to protect the life of people.