By Deepak Adhikari
At least 24 people have died in Nepal’s northwestern district of Jajarkot following a deadly outbreak of swine flu three weeks ago, raising questions about the capacity of the country's healthcare system.
Hundreds of villagers in the district's sparsely populated rural hamlets have been infected in one of the worst cases of flu epidemic in the country, with the elderly and the children who complained of high fever and body pain, hardest hit by the influenza.
“I can confirm the death of 24 people in Jajarkot district. So far, 2,498 people have been treated in the outbreak sites. Among them, we have suspected 552 of contracting swine flu,” Padam Bahadur Chanda, a Health Ministry spokesman told Anadolu Agency.
He said roughly 25 doctors, 51 health personnel and 63 volunteers have been deployed to the district including medics from the security forces and medical colleges.
“I am receiving reports from some villages where the number of patients has decreased. But in other villages, their number has increased. Almost all have showed the symptoms of flu,” Chand said.
Experts at the state-run Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said the samples brought from the outbreak sites confirmed the cause of the death was swine flu.
Baburam Marasini, the director of Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, has acknowledged the failure on the part of the government.
“If there had been even one properly-equipped hospital in [the badly-affected] Paink village, we could’ve had them collect samples, do chest x-rays, and treat patients round the clock while we sent a helicopter to get those samples for testing,” he said, in an interview with The Kathmandu Post on Wednesday.
“This would’ve provided some level of support. But the fact is that our health system is not prepared for these kinds of outbreaks,” Marasini said.
Jajarkot district, where many men regularly travel to India for work, is one of the poorest of Nepal’s 75 districts. The government has set up health posts in the countryside but these facilities are hamstrung by a lack of health personnel, medicine and medical equipment.
There are fears that the epidemic could spread to neighboring districts of Rukum and Kalikot. A cholera epidemic in Jajarkot district six years ago killed 300 people.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an interim order directing the government to dispatch doctors and medicine in the district within 24 hours. The apex court was responding to a writ petition filed on Sunday arguing that the government had failed to provide health services to the people.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who left for Jakarta on Monday to attend the Afro-Asian Summit, has been accused of ignoring a major health crisis in the country.