Saturday, 4 April, 2020

Nepal’s Role To Battle COVID-19

Prof. Balmukunda Regmi


China is a close friend and next door neighbour of Nepal. With the increase in the region's communications, transportation and economic interdependence, bilateral relations between the two countries have further been strengthened. When the 2015 Gorkha earthquake and unofficial Indian embargo brought the country to its knees, China came to its rescue, offering economic, technical and other support.
Although humans have made advances in medicine, vaccines and therapy, we are also facing health challenges mainly due to changes in our diet, lifestyle and environment. Such challenges include microbial infectious diseases such as HIV, influenza virus, non-infectious mental illness, cancer and heart, kidney, liver problems and hereditary diseases. New diseases can appear anywhere any time in the world. So, it is our collective responsibility to participate in the fight against such diseases.
With the end of the year 2019, China's Hubei Province, especially Wuhan City, has been facing infection with the coronavirus COVID-19. From the beginning, scholars have warned that the dangers it poses may be similar to SARS. Nepal is also required to take timely precautions. Depending on their abilities, different countries have taken different preventive measures. Some of them have helped other countries in addition to taking care of themselves while some expect to get help from other countries.
We still remember the lessons from recent outbreaks of virus-related pneumonia such as SARS and MERS. Nepal’s focus should be on preparedness to deal with the Wuhan virus that may come into Nepal. Although it is the government's responsibility to strictly manage border points and airports, the private sector, which considers itself to be more responsible, stronger, more effective and capable than the government, especially non-governmental organisations, should play their active role. The absence of their economic, technical and management roles in preventing the possible transmission of the virus and care of the infected ones means they fail to do what they often claim.
Instead of nurturing the idea that “the infection will never spread to the holy land of Nepal”, we must prepare the infectious disease hospitals to cope with various potential threats, and must have adequate health and safety workforce equipped with adequate aprons, equipment and resources ready in place. This is the responsibility of all of us, especially the government. We have been participating less in these activities and more in debates beyond our capabilities.
In the din of unrealistic debates, the practical and useful approach has taken a back seat. When rural people are reeling from poverty and health problems, the Nepali leadership has been entangled in digressive topics- whether or not we accept the grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, whether the US brought coronavirus to China, and whether the religious book Swasthani should be torn. Such discussions have overshadowed the genuine slogans like "focus on personal hygiene", "wave hands for greeting with the familiar people instead of handshake" "wash hands before eating", "wear a mask when you have flu", "don't eat leftovers and rotten food" and "keep public toilets clean."
After the virus broke out, China gave first priority to the protection of foreigners. During the crisis, it provided as much help as possible to them. Until the time of writing, none of the Nepalis living in China have been infected or faced lack of food and nutrition. When China had no problem, many sent their children under favorable terms to China for education, business and their personal development. Now some people from developed nations are showing irresponsible behaviour, demanding that their children be returned to the country. They have put pressure on the government through protest rallies and media propaganda. These sorts of activity have dominated the media but the voices of the medical professionals working here have been lost in the wilderness.
What were these developed nations doing when Nepal was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake? They were distributing "Holy books" put into the pockets of relief supplies that mocked the one-door relief policy of the Nepali government. At that time, the Chinese were devoted themselves to the rescue works with supplies, and did not spend a penny to "teach" us. Which style did we like at the time? Maybe a similar style will win the hearts of Chinese people now! Among the Nepalis currently living in Wuhan, there are also doctors, some who understand Chinese, and some who sing "Long live China-Nepal relations!" slogans. But empty words are meaningless at the moment, only work is appreciated. Just as the Chinese were assigned to work in Nepal during the earthquake and the years after that, now is the time for us to contribute to the Chinese.
China knows our economic capability is limited, but we can contribute our labour. Some people may suggest that due to infectious diseases we might not get there but we can help eliminate the illusions caused by misinformation about China. If we don't have the ability to do that, we can thank China for the kindness shown to us and continue to do our job. In the eyes of the government, the rural poor who have no access to medicines and nutritious food have the same life value as the wealthy students who fly abroad.
We must also consider the crisis that our country will face if an infected person travels to Nepal. Objectively speaking, if infected, Nepalis are safer in China than in Nepal. Take for example, irrespective of any sign of corona virus, all people returning from Beijing are to be quarantined for two weeks before they can enter the city. This is very tough task. If our government is trying to help China now, Nepali health workers who studied in China should be sent there to serve.

(Regmi is a professor at Tribhuvan University and a researcher at Charhar Institute, China) 

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