Monday, June 14, 2021

The status of Jaleshwar Hospital during Covid-19


Yesterday I went to Jaleshwar Hospital for a check-up. This was the second time I had gone there. I had a perception that the particular hospital did not have the capacity for proper treatment of any disease.

Jaleshwar Hospital was established in 1889 which is almost the same year Nepal's most ancient Bir Hospital was established in Kathmandu. There used to be a time Jaleshwar Hospital gained name for the prompt treatment of kalajar (a kind of severe fever caused by mosquito bites) and it was possible due to the professionalism of Dr. Dwarika Prasad Sah, an MBBS who served at the hospital for two decades. Gradually, the condition of the hospital deteriorated due to several factors, including political instability. 

Recently, the hospital also seems to be in the limelight due to three reasons. First, this hospital has developed its infrastructure to an optimum level a district hospital has to have and several attempts are being made to equip it with advanced medical facilities. Second, in 2020, the hospital was declared a Covid-19 special hospital which has been continued for this year too. Third, how this hospital is being facing neglect from all three tiers of government. 

As the scribe belongs to the same district and has witnessed the odd and even hours of the hospital amidst the current pandemic, it is the need of the hour to shed light upon the hospital to critically analyse the above-mentioned factors as these are being discussed with different angles. 

Just two years back people were afraid of approaching Jaleshwar hospital due to its filthy environment. The situation was such unhygienic that it had even negatively impacted the people residing in its vicinity. Just a few months back I got an opportunity to visit the hospital with a few delegates of the United Nations Development Programme and everyone praised the environment of the hospital saying that it is praiseworthy that it meets the standard of a proper district hospital. Infrastructure development is still going on to upgrade the level. 

During my recent visit to the hospital, I talked with Suresh Pandey, the president of the Hospital Management Committee, and live broadcasted the conversation on my Facebook profile. As we know, recently the deadly Covid-19 has raised questions about the health system and capacity of hospitals in Nepal. My first question was: the hospital has been declared Covid-19 hospital and what is the current status? Is oxygen available in the hospital as entire Nepal and even our southern neighbour India is gasping for sufficient oxygen? 

The response of Mr. Pandey said that the situation is being handled with care but it is not sufficient. Last year the Province-2 government had declared the hospital a 'Covid-19 special hospital' and the hospital had installed five ventilators to serve the needy. A year has passed but equipment is still not functioning due to the lack of manpower.

The leadership of Province-2 did not prioritize the fulfilment of medical manpower to the hospitals. Their focus on 'political stunts' and investment in beautification of ponds, temples, mosques, constructing low standard roads have practically side lined the necessity of dealing honestly with public health issues. The lethal variant of Covid-19 that emerged this year is dancing the destructive Tandav already in India before showing its catastrophic avatar in Nepal. The government could have prepared for the catastrophe but it was caught napping. The question comes- Why did the provincial and local government not think of assessing its health services with the centrality of Covid's impact?

In the context of Jaleshwar hospital, head of the management committee of the hospital told that after many hiccups the Ministry of Social Development of Province-2 has officially asked three doctors to operate the ICU for Jaleshwar Hospital. But they have not joined the hospital yet. Pandey believes that, once the manpower arrives, he is ready to set a benchmark for district-level hospital to serve the people of Mahottari, the district which ranks low in human development index [HDI]. 

The newly-appointed federal Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel has recently allocated and approved the decision to provide 60 million rupees for oxygen plant and pipeline connection to three hospitals among which none of the hospitals are from Province-2. It's quite appreciable that at least three hospitals have received the amount. However, it also compels one to think why district hospitals in Province-2 failed to be listed? Covid-19 cases are also alarmingly increasing in Province-2. In such a fragile situation how could the federal finance minister ignore the need for equity while issuing any packages? 

Local governments too seem have been exercising their own kind of development model which has been revolving around the use of bricks, cement, and iron! Most of the local governments are seen as reluctant to work intensively on health and education. This is the cry of the hour that the local, provincial and federal government concerned can prove themselves by controlling this pandemic showing their vision and willpower. Jaleshwar Municipality and Province-2 government must be aware that they are under public scrutiny. Are they helping Jaleshwar hospital to fulfil its basic wants or have they left it to gods? Province-2 government also needs to implement its promises made last year regarding the equipping of Jaleshwar hospital with fifty beds.  

Twitter: @randhirJNK

Published on 19 May 2021