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Alumnus leads Nepalese paediatric hospital through COVID-19

Posted: 2 June 2020

Nepal, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

Australia Awards alumnus Dr Krishna Paudel is among the frontline health workers in Nepal fighting the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Paudel is the Director at Kanti Children’s Hospital, Nepal’s only government-run paediatric hospital, where he has been leading a team of more than 600 staff in efforts to control the virus. At the same time, he has also been providing technical advice to the Government of Nepal as a senior government officer.

Dr Paudel pursued a Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne through an Australia Awards Scholarship. He returned from Australia in December 2019, and in February 2020 was appointed to his current role as Director of Kanti Children’s Hospital, where he had previously served as a Chief Consultant Paediatrician for more than a decade. At the time of his appointment, only one positive case of COVID-19 had been identified in Nepal, and that patient had already fully recovered. However, the Government of Nepal decided to take precautionary measures to minimise the spread of the virus by enforcing a nationwide lockdown, and advised hospitals to start preparing for the pandemic.

As part of his prompt response, Dr Paudel brought the hospital’s Infection Prevention Committee to full capacity and reactivated its Incident Command System, both critical functions for the hospital in planning and implementing activities during a pandemic. He led vital hospital infrastructure initiatives, including increasing the hospital’s number of isolation wards from two to ten and replacing the paper-based attendance system with a face-reading system to avoid physical contamination.

Early in the crisis, Dr Paudel addressed the hospital’s substantial shortage of Personal Protective Equipment. The hospital also restarted producing hand-sanitiser, and hand-sanitiser stations were set up for visitors, patients and staff throughout the hospital. In addition, Dr Paudel coached his team on how to cope with the pandemic, encouraging them to maintain professional integrity, courage and calm. He believes these measures are helping staff respond to the pandemic.

Reflecting on how he has been using the knowledge and skills that he learned through Australia Awards, Dr Paudel said, “Studying in public health has been very useful for me in managing a pandemic situation like this. Subjects like infectious diseases, epidemiology and public health leadership, which I studied as part of the Master of Public Health, are very relevant for me now. In implementing the necessary measures in my hospital, I have been putting into practise the knowledge and skills that I learnt in Australia.” He is regularly in touch with his professors in Australia and often consults with them in the course of conducting his duties.

“Studying in public health has been very useful for me in managing a pandemic situation like this… I have been putting into practise the knowledge and skills that I learnt in Australia”

As a developing country, Nepal faces additional challenges during the pandemic, as does the hospital that Dr Paudel directs. Lack of resources and shortages of Personal Protective Equipment, as Dr Paudel points out, have been hurdles to cross. While the government has enforced lockdown as a preventive measure, an exponential increase in cases could still occur. To address this, Dr Paudel plans to suggest that the Government procure resources and carefully manage the easing of lockdown restrictions by categorising geographical areas according to their COVID-19 burden.

While a vaccine, cure or other solution to the COVID-19 pandemic remains undiscovered for now, Dr Paudel points out that there are simple precautions each of us can take as primary safety measures. “COVID-19 has reminded us,” he says, “of the value of hand hygiene and sanitation.”

Dr Paudel is one of the recipients of an Alumni COVID-19 Response Grant recently offered by Australia Awards – Nepal as part of alumni engagement activities. He will be using the Grant to purchase additional Personal Protective Equipment and other materials for infection control at the hospital.