Dengue outbreak in Nepal: Deuba-led government’s flagrant indifference to curb the disease

More than 20,000 cases and 25 deaths, it appears, are not enough for the Deuba government in taking initiatives to control the disease.

A dengue patient receiving treatment at Teku Hospital. Photo: Swasthyakhabar Files

NL Today

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Kathmandu: In 2020, when Nepal was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic and the KP Oli-led government was handling the pandemic poorly, it was the main opposition–Nepali Congress–which fiercely slammed the government for failing on Covid-19 response.

From parliament to streets, Nepali Congress came down heavily against the then government. 

The same Nepali Congress now leads the coalition government of five parties. And the situation is quite similar to 2020. Then it was Covid-19. Now it’s dengue. 

The only difference is the position of Nepali Congress–then it was a fierce opposition, now it leads the government that looks completely indifferent to the sufferings, deaths and panic caused by dengue.

Amid the crisis, incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is keen to return to power as the PM for the sixth term after the upcoming elections, has remained blithely indifferent to people’s sufferings caused by dengue outbreak.

Back in the past, during the pandemic, Deuba and his party Nepali Congress had come down heavily against the then KP Oli-led government–when it failed to provide treatment to the Covid-19 patients. At that time, Nepal’s health system had completely collapsed as hospitals ran out of beds for Covid-19 patients.

The situation is not going to be different this time if the number of cases continues to rise at the same pace, said Dr Baburam Marasini, a former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD). 

According to the data from the Ministry of Health and Population, as many as 18,951 cases have been recorded in the last four months. Of the total, more than 13,000 are recorded in the last three weeks. And the disease has already claimed the lives of 25 people across the country. 

“There has been a surge in the number of cases in Kathmandu and some other parts of the country. People need to be cautious as the risk remains,” according to the Health Ministry.

Of the 77 districts, the disease has already been reported in 75 districts.

According to public health experts, there has been no response from the government in controlling the dengue outbreak. “This response from the government is further increasing dengue cases in Nepal. The government has not even fogged insecticides to contain the disease. Furthermore, there is a massive shortage of dengue kits too,” said Dr Marasini. 

The ministry data shows that the cities with dense populations continue to record the highest number of positive cases lately. However, Dr Marasini says dengue cases have been reported in hilly and mountainous districts too. “The outbreak underlines an urgent need for action. However, the government has not worked toward curbing the outbreak,” he said, adding that the authorities concerned are ignoring the dengue outbreak.

At least 97 percent of the population is at risk of dengue as mosquitoes carrying dengue virus have reached even the mountainous districts, he added. “Looking at the current scenario, the then government had managed the Covid-19 pandemic properly than this government has handled dengue outbreak.”

Among the highly affected districts, Kathmandu alone has recorded 4367 cases by September 20. Similarly, Lalitpur, Makawanpur, and Dang have recorded 3446, 1271, and 1154 cases, respectively. The disease is now epidemic and the cases are on the rise, the ministry said.

“The actual number of cases might be higher given that all the patients with mild symptoms do not approach the health institutions,” say public health experts.

Nepal Live Today on Friday reached a few hospitals in Kathmandu to observe how they are dealing with the outbreak. In Teku Hospital, there were no beds available for new patients. Same was the case in Patan Hospital. Both of these hospitals are receiving at least 150 dengue patients every day. These government hospitals are even struggling to provide ICU beds to dengue patients.

Some private hospitals’ emergency wards were also full of dengue patients.

Meanwhile, the presence of the government is not felt on any front–neither in prevention nor in cure, said an official at the Health Ministry. “Given the alarming situation, the government should have already taken some key preventive measures such as making public spaces safe by controlling breeding of mosquitoes, providing mosquito repellents and nets to the people and launching a massive awareness campaign.” “But our minister has not been serious.”

Even the leaders within the Nepali Congress are unsatisfied with the government’s response to tackle the dengue outbreak. Speaking at an event in Kathmandu recently, Gagan Kumar Thapa, General Secretary of Nepali Congress, said the government has failed to learn lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic to contain dengue.  

“The lack of preparedness of the government is the main reason for the spread of dengue. The government did not make the necessary preparations as dengue began to spread,” he said.