It may be the calm before the storm. While at the time of writing Nepal has reported less than 60 confirmed Covid-19 cases (as of 4 May 2020, the national and provincial health authorities are preparing to deal with a potential spread of the pandemic. Extra hospital beds will be critical, and Options’ Nepal Health Sector Support Programme’s (NHSSP) team, which is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), has been working with hospital managers in Pokhara and Bhaktapur, the Ministry of Health and Population, provincial Ministries of Social Development and the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC) to create new spaces for future COVID-19 patients since mid-March.
The team had been in the process of increase the earthquake resilience of the Western Regional Academic Hospital Pokhara and Bhaktapur Hospital through retrofitting – a process that involves strengthening their building structure. To make sure that the hospital departments can continue to offer healthcare services while these works are carried out, the team moves them unit by unit to temporary external buildings - ‘decant blocks’ - which comprise ward spaces, operating theatres and diagnostic rooms. This process was set to take place over the next two years.
But the advent of the pandemic has temporarily changed the purpose of these blocks as the government, hospital management and DFID have agreed to transform them into treatment centres for COVID-19 patients. The blocks will be adapted to provide isolation wards for patients, which eases pressure on the main hospital and reduces risk of cross-infection to already vulnerable patients.
The NHSSP team has worked with the building contractors and DUDBC engineers to plan and support the completion of this rapid construction effort, while the Nepali government gave special permission for the transportation of materials and construction workers to the sites during the country’s lockdown.
The construction works are almost finished, and the facilities ready to be fitted-out with beds, equipment and staff. It is expected that both facilities will be complete by mid-May.
‘It’s a great example of joint work between our team, provincial governments, hospital management, contractors and the DUDBC’, says Sunil Khadka, the NHSSP Lead Technical Advisor for Health Infrastructure. ‘We have a skilled team who worked flexibly and quickly to adjust our design, and our site supervision will ensure that construction is of good quality in this time of emergency’