Uttam Raj Pyakurel served as one of the two vector control inspectors at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division in Kathmandu for 22 years before he was transferred to Province 3, two weeks ago, as part of the civil servants readjustment process.
He was the focal person for the vector control programme and used to deal with vector-borne diseases—malaria, kalajar, dengue, encephalitis and elephantiasis, among others—and was involved in making policies and plans to contain the spreading of the diseases.
His colleague, Rajendra Mishra, also a vector control inspector, resigned from his post instead of reporting to the place he was transferred to under the civil servant adjustment.
As of now, the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division under the Department of Health Services does not have any vector inspectors.
This situation is worrisome, as officials at the division say there is growing concern regarding the possibility of an epidemic, as the pre-monsoon season has already set in.
“Our level of nervousness has increased, as we lack trained manpower. If an epidemic were to break out, we do not know what we will do,” Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the division, told the Post.
But the problem is much deeper than the two vector control inspectors leaving. Officials say experts are currently not spread across the country proportionately, meaning many areas are now concentrated with experts, while others are left with none. This has happened because the civil servant adjustment has allowed staff to choose their area of interest during transfers. Prior to the adjustment process, a total of 34 vector control inspectors were spread across the country.
“This could create a huge problem when we have to respond in the event of epidemics,” said Lal.
It is well known that the monsoon invites epidemics. Given the possibility of a spread of monsoon diseases, the division earlier used to make preparations and mobilise its staff, including vector control inspectors, accordingly to deal with epidemics.
But with the new political setup, Lal says his office now barely has any authority to mobilise these experts, as they work under the provincial and local governments.
“The chain of command has broken. We even do not even know which expert is placed where,” he added.
While the readjustment of civil servants was bound to happen after the country adopted the federal system, officials at the division say there seems to be some oversight on the government’s part when it comes to logistics, especially when dealing with emergencies.
The vector control inspectors in the earlier setup used to work in tandem with rapid response units in the districts. But in the new structure, rapid response divisions are yet to be reorganised.
“We have to start from scratch,” said Lal. “And it will take some time before we create a new structure, and in the event of emergency, time is of the essence.”
The division, according to officials, does not receive reportings from health workers serving at the local level and it does not know the actual situation on the ground.
“I was involved in formulating national level planning, policy, strategy and guideline with regards to the management of epidemics,” Pyakurel said. “Now I wonder whether I will be able to utilise my expertise or not.”