Nepal faces shortage of vital medical supplies

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KATHMANDU: Nepal’s Department of Health Services said it does not have a single ventilator in store for hospitals amid a rapid surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Himalayan nation.

Ventilator is the life-saving equipment vital for the survival of critically ill patients, which the Himalayan country lacks in various hospitals, reports Xinhua news agency.

“We don’t have any ventilator at our store at the moment. We are initiating the process of procuring 10 new ventilators,” Bhogendra Raj Dotel, director of Supply Management section at the Department of Health Services under the Ministry of Health and Population, told Xinhua.

According to Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, the nation currently has only 840 ventilators across the country. Although the Health Ministry planned to buy 235 new ventilators, hardly any of them have arrived, according to Adhikari.

“We also have not received ventilators from foreign donors who have supported us with surgical masks, personal protective equipment and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test kits, rapid test kits among others.”

The ministry said in its Health Sector Emergency Response Plan against the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled last month that there are 840 ventilators, 26,930 hospital beds and 1,595 beds with intensive care unit facilities in 194 hospitals.

“As these facilities, particularly impatient beds and ventilators, are being used for other conditions or impatient care services, we assume only one third of it could be available for COVID-19 cases,” the Health Emergency Response Plan states.

With a record-high 239 new cases on Monday, the total count of COVID-19 in Nepal has reached 1,811. After a slow start, almost all cases had appeared in the last one month, according to the Ministry.

The Himalayan country has already witnessed eight deaths from the pandemic. As the number of cases is rising rapidly, Adhikari said the rise in serious cases that require ventilator support could not be ruled out.

In the worst case scenario, Nepal expects over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 with a requirement of keeping over 500 patients at intensive care units and over 1,500 at the hospitals with oxygen support, according to the Health Sector Emergency Response Plan.

Along with the rise in the number of cases, the Nepali government is also struggling to manage enough the PCR test kits and the Viral Transport Mediums (VTMs) which are used to collect throat swab samples for testing.

“There are just over 50,000 PCR kits while the number of VTMs is just over 10,000,” according to Adhikari. “As PCR kits are in constant supply, it may not be a problem. We also hope to get VTMs from local manufacturers too, which will offset the current shortage.