Monday, June 14, 2021

The role of local government in fighting Covid

Credit: UNICEF Nepal/2020

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As coronavirus continues to spread, Nepal is undergoing a devastating nightmare that has unleashed unbelievable sufferings on people.

The utter disregard for World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines in Nepal has pushed thousands into a crippling crisis. Had the society observed quarantine laws and social distancing guidelines, there would not have been this horror show and society would not have witnessed untimely deaths, desperate pleas for oxygen, and citizens under threat of transmission.

Role of local governments

But all is not lost. Still, we can do a handful to stop the transmission. There is a dire need of spreading basic information regarding the preventive measures against coronavirus in the language people understand. It would be a futile attempt to spread the message in Nepali as the majority of rural folks across the country do not understand Nepali language. In their own native language, they should be made aware about the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and the possible ways to defeat this virus.

In order to prevent infection and to slow down the rate of transmission of Covid-19, WHO and Nepal’s Health Ministry have suggested various preventive measures like washing hands with alcohol-based hand rub, maintaining at least one meter of distance, avoiding touching your face, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, staying home if you feel unwell, refraining from smoking, practicing physical distancing, and avoiding unnecessary travelling. This is all good, however, local bodies could play a crucial role in spreading the message about these preventive measures in the language people of Terai and even other parts of the country understand.

Undoubtedly, local governments play a significant role to contain the virus. Local governments could advise the people to refrain from gathering at nooks and corners. Irony is that the government agencies don’t have enough time to visit the villages and suggest the people to maintain social distancing and avoid gatherings. In Janakpurdham, a metropolitan city, where the scribe is located, we can see the effects of lockdown: closure of markets and temporary suspension of people’s right to move on the streets as they please. But the same is not observed in rural areas. In fact, people are not aware about the possible consequences of corona as they still believe that Covid is simply a common cold and it’s a rich man’s disease and an urban phenomenon. It's high time to spread a message in Terai villages that Covid-19 outbreak is neither a rich man’s disease, nor is it unleashed on mankind to punish the sinners.

Respect right to privacy

The Division Bench of Justices Dr Anand Mohan Bhattarai and Sushmalata Mathema in the case of Advocate Roshani Paudel and Others Vs Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers on June 9, 2020 held that the government shall not disclose the identity of Covid-19 patients. The court was of the opinion that right to privacy of Covid-19 patients would be hugely compromised with the disclosure of their names. In fact, if the identity of patients is revealed, the community members may start looking down upon them and that could tear the social fabric.

However, the implementation of this ruling has become a tall task. In Janakpur and surrounding areas, I often hear thorny comments against the persons infected with coronavirus. There is a common belief that the families with coronavirus patients should be isolated and be left at their fate. I barely find neighbours extending help to the families fighting the catastrophe of coronavirus.

Immediate requirements

The government agencies responsible to implement the epidemic laws put in place should augment surprise visits in the villages so as to expedite the compliance of social distancing and law and order. In villages, you can easily find people gathering, children playing in open spaces, and the opening of small shops. Their non-adherence to preventive measures could contribute in transmission of the virus.

Local bodies could issue guidelines as to the timing in which shops, including ration shops dealing with food, groceries, fruits or vegetables or other essential services, could be made available at the disposal of the people. Local units could bring a directive as to the timing in which the Prohibitory Order would be eased for shops providing essential services.

As public awareness could play a creative and constructive role in fight against the global pandemic, government agencies should make the people aware about the importance of social distancing, sanitization or use of mask and among other preventive measures required to be taken to curb the rate of transmission.

As it may be difficult for the local governments to arrange police force in large numbers, they could hire required number of responsible individuals from each area to look after the implementation of epidemic laws in force. Also, the provincial and local governments could hire students holding a degree in biological sciences to assist the doctors. Such hired staffers could be engaged in spreading messages required, in regional languages, to combat the virus. It will certainly ease the burden of health workers. This way, the state could develop a feeling among the youths that desperate time demands desperate measures and their roles could be vital in desperate situations. This would give a message that collective efforts could make us able to battle the pandemic.

Over and above it all, a large chunk of people in rural settings don’t have sufficient money to buy masks and sanitizers. The daily wage earners are jobless and many at the verge of losing their jobs. Local governments should distribute masks and sanitizers free of cost to the needy and helpless citizens. Along with this, there should be temporary arrangement of adequate space to the families who don’t have the luxury to isolate their infected family members. Food packets, masks, sanitizers and other things could be distributed by the governments to those families who are in actual need and cannot afford it in this pandemic period due to various reasons. Local government should also support families dependent on income of their family members working abroad.

After all, government agencies of the federal democratic republic of Nepal deserve to march a combined fight against a disease that has wreaked havoc on the people indiscriminately.

Published on 25 May 2021

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