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Editorial: Healthcare needs a long-term investment

Editorial: Healthcare needs a long-term investment
Kathmandu valley is in the grips of the dengue epidemic. As of Sept 19, the Health Ministry has recorded 17,594 cases and over 20 deaths across the country since May. Over 10,000 infections have been reported in the valley. At this point, many hospitals in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are overstretched by dengue patients. Government hospitals in particular are being overrun as patient numbers continue to pile up with no signs of letup. By no stretch of imagination, one can come to the conclusion that dengue virus has gained the upper hand over the health authorities. Already, there are reports about a shortage of paracetamol, a common painkiller used to reduce fever of dengue patients.

The situation resembles peak Covid-19 times. Then, the government had pledged to ramp up the production of paracetamol and other essential medicines. It did not and here we are, reliving the same nightmare.

Public health experts and epidemiologists have already sounded alarm bells about the imminent crisis. If the government and its concerned agencies fail to act swiftly and aggressively, there will be more infections and more deaths. Dengue vectors Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are attacking by swarms, and they have reached almost every corner of the country. Thanks to the extreme effects of climate change, dengue-causing mosquitoes are now stalking high altitude regions, where previously they were uncommon. The government and health authorities should bear in mind that this is just the beginning. There will be more disease outbreaks in future, not just of dengue or Covid-19. Limitations of our healthcare system have already been exposed by Covid-19 and now dengue is doing the same. The vast majority of Nepalis cannot afford private hospitals. Meanwhile, government-run hospitals lack a litany of services, from basic infrastructure to medical equipment to staff strength. The situation is particularly pathetic in rural areas, where health facilities are few and far between and consequently, people are dying for want of proper care. To achieve universal health coverage, Nepal must invest around five percent of its GDP on healthcare. But the government has been spending less than two percent for the same. So long as the government chooses to remain parsimonious about spending on healthcare, our healthcare service will never improve. Nepali citizens will be scrambling to find a hospital bed and proper care, just like they have been doing now.